Cats Don't Direct
A "Cats Don't Dance"/Rescue Rangers story
By Indy and Chris Silva

Dancing Danny To Direct!

Chapter 1 – The Big Picture and A Dire Situation

       L.B. Mammoth, head of Mammoth Studios, held up the headline for everyone in the boardroom to read. His face was beaming, and despite the spectacles over his eyes it was obvious that he was a happy camper.
       “This publicity campaign’s already been a smashing success,” L.B. started in, interrupted by the board members’ clapping. “We’ve had a great deal of interest from movie houses across the country. Gentlemen, I feel that Danny’s movie is the answer to the recent turndown we’ve had. If this film goes over big, we’ll push a whole series of them!”
       More clapping followed, then L.B.’s right-hand man and chief director Flanigan spoke up. “Right you are, chief! This move stands to make L.B. Mammoth’s name live forever in the shining memory of Hollywood!”
       “Well said, Flanigan,” L.B. replied, “and you’re going to help.”
       “M…m…me, sir?” Flanigan asked. “But I thought Danny was directing this picture.”
       “He is, but he’s not experienced yet. I want a veteran backing him as assistant director. Flanigan, you’re the only man I trust for the job.”
       Flanigan ducked his head a little, and it was clear he was not thrilled about playing second banana. “Well, okay sir. If it’s for the good of the studio.” L.B. stood up. “That’s the answer I expected. Now, Danny informs me that the script should be back from the editors either today or tomorrow. Once it’s finalized with the printers, get with him and make sure everything goes smoothly.”
       With a nod, Flanigan left the room and L.B. asked the secretary to let Danny and Sawyer in. The dancing cat nearly flew into the room, exuberant and full of pep. L.B. shook the cat’s hand. “Danny, congratulations. You’ve made this studio one of the brightest lights in this old town, and earned quite a name for yourself.”
       “Gosh, thanks sir!” Danny said, pumping his boss’ hand. “I can’t take all the credit, though. It was a team effort—Sawyer, in particular helped convince me to take this step. We’ll turn the movie industry on its ear again! Just wait!”
       “I’m sure you will. Now don’t forget, the printers need your completed script draft from the editors by the end of the week. Don’t let any copies get out, or the spies at our rival studios will either try to copy us or leak the storyline to the press.” Danny snapped off a sharp salute. “Don’t worry, Mr. Mammoth, nothing’s gonna stop us now!”
       Sawyer grabbed Danny’s arm. “Come on, Mr. Unstoppable. We have a dinner date with the rest of the old crew, remember?” Danny thanked every member of the board, then returned to Sawyer, bubbling with confidence. “Yeah! A good meal will get the ol’ creative juices going.”
       Danny and Sawyer shook hands with L.B. at the door and headed out. They headed for the Brown Derby, where a reunion of sorts was going on. Danny had called all the animals they’d first worked with together, not only to talk over old times but to talk about being in his latest film. Some of them, like Pudge and Cranston, had been working some time at rival studios, but Danny had talked L.B. into pulling a few strings. Others either already worked for Mammoth Studios or had gone on to other jobs, but they had all eagerly gathered (well, Cranston never was eager about anything) to hear Danny pitch his ideas.
       They were seated in a private room, and once Danny was sure it was secure he took center stage, happy as a lark. “Friends, Romans, farm animals, lend me your ears! I’ve written the greatest musical ever!” Danny jumped on top of the big round table they were seated at, taking center stage as he took up the centerpiece off the white linen tablecloth. “It’ll be the retelling of a classic! A story with pathos, love, drama and heart!”
       Cranston looked up at him, sarcastic. “What’s it called, ‘Bippi Bippi Bop Bop’?” Tilly clouted him, knocking his head through the table. “Oh, Cranston! I’m sure it’s gonna be a real hit!” T.W. started quaking in his shell. “It doesn’t involve anything to do with the number 13, does it?”
       Danny grinned, like he was sharing the best secret in the world. “I’m doing a remake of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, but my new and improved version’s called ‘A Street Cat Named Desiree’!”
       There was a good two-second pause for sheer shock value, then Cranston’s mouth kicked back in gear. “So in other words it’s a complete rewrite.”
       “Wow!” Pudge said. “So do we all get to be in it, Danny?”
       “You bet! It’s set in a college town down south, and it’s all about an optimistic freshman college quarterback and a big city girl who loves to act, dance and sing, and it’s how they both grow and learn from each other.”
       “That sure doesn’t sound like the original story,” Sawyer said. Danny had kept everything about the film secret up to this point, even from her. “Do you think you can swing that past the audience?” she asked. Danny waived off her concern. “If they’ve seen the original, they’ll love our version, believe me.”
       Cranston crossed his arms, harrumphing. “If there’s an increase in seismic activity during filming, it’ll be Tennessee Williams rolling in his grave…” Frances, sitting next to him, nodded. “Tell me about it, darling. I used to date his editor. Almost became my fourth husband.” Tilly, never to be overly worried about anything, was overcome with excitement and jumped up and down, nearly knocking the giant derby off the restaurant’s roof. “Ooo, goodygoodygoody! It sounds exciting! When do we start filming?”
       “We don’t have a lot of time,” Danny said, retaking his seat at the table. “The script needs to be ready in a week and filming begins in two weeks.” Woolie the Mammoth, who had remained quiet to this point sipping on his peanut tea, spoke up. “It sounds ambitious, Danny. But never fear, we’re all with you. After all, you proved to us all that your dream was genuine. We were just fortunate to be along for the ride.”
       Danny nodded and addressed the whole table. “Okay, we all have a lot riding on this, though it may not seem like it—the first animal-directed movie. It’ll be a victory for animals everywhere!” Sawyer tapped Danny on the shoulder, breaking the exuberant cat out of his train of thought. “And Danny’s hired me as his casting director as well as his co-star. We’re going to try to make this film an homage to the success of animal actors everywhere, so we’ll be trying to pull in several of the classic animal actors for cameos.”
       Sawyer checked her jewel-encrusted watch. “Speaking of which, auditions are set to start this afternoon. I’d better get down there and head off the chaos.”
       “Okay, but one more thing first,” Danny said, opening a bottle of champagne. They all filled their glasses for a toast, and Danny gave it. “To dreams that came true, and to more on the way!”

       Champagne glasses clinked all around, and the meeting broke up. Danny escorted Sawyer outside, and just as she was about to step out from under the Derby’s awning, a cloudburst hit. “Not now!” Sawyer said. “I spent half the morning at the beauty parlor. No way am I going to spoil it now.”
       A concierge brought an umbrella, and Danny took it. “Don’t worry, Sawyer,” Danny said. “I’ll go get your chauffeur’s attention!” Before Sawyer could protest, Danny had stepped off the curb. He just stood there for a moment, then pulled his umbrella back, letting the rain splash him.
       “Oh no, not that again…” Sawyer mumbled, covering her face. Unlike Sawyer, Danny loved to cavort in public. He started to strut to music only he could hear, whipping his umbrella around. Then he started humming and singing from the “Singing in the Rain” theme, lost in a world of his own.
       “I’m dancin’…and singin’…in… the raaaaain…” Danny sang, finishing up with a flourish. The crowd on the sidewalk in front of the Derby clapped, but he noticed that Sawyer wasn’t there anymore. “Hey, where’d she go?”
       “She left a few minutes ago,” Tilly said. “Something about ‘not having time for this’.”
       “Oh, okay,” Danny said, not fazed at all. “I’ll see you all at the studio!”
       Cranston grumbled, a raindrop popping him in the eye. “I’m probably going to regret this.”

       Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, a group of diminutive do-gooders was wrapping up a case. The Rescue Rangers were widely known—not just in the animal community of New York, but to animals around the world—as upholders of justice and honor. At the moment, they were flying to their headquarters, the largest oak tree in Central Park.
       Chip, leader of the Rangers, tipped his fedora down over his chipmunk face and prepared for forty winks in the RangerWing when a certain red-nosed comrade of his decided to have some fun. Dale had just finished a soda and took a piece of ice from his cup and slid it down the back of Chip’s bomber jacket. Chip leaped up with a yelp and bonked Dale on the head. “Dale, what are you doing?!”
       Dale laughed, ignoring the bonk entirely. “Hey, you’re the one who’s always saying to keep cool under pressure! I was just helping you out!” Monterey Jack, Monty to his friends, could see the munks’ daily rough-and-tumble about to start. The big mustached Aussie mouse liked a good fight, but only when he was in it. He separated the two of them before they could pounce on each other.
       “Here now, mates! Gadget’s already told ya once, she don’t need the likes of you scrapping in the RangerWing. Besides, ol’ Dale was just having a mite of sport, right mate?” Monty asked. Dale leaned forward from his back seat position and gave Chip an impish grin. “It was great sport for me!” Chip pushed him back where he belonged. “Dale, stop fooling around! There’s work to be done. You never know when something could come up.”
       “Aw, you’re always saying that!” Dale countered. “We weren’t causing any trouble, were we, Gadget?”

       At this, the RangerWing’s pilot looked back toward Dale. Gadget Hackwrench was the Rangers’ inventor, mechanic and pilot, and as far as two chipmunks were concerned the loveliest mouse ever to grace the planet. She, like most obsessed geniuses, was totally oblivious to their attentions. “Hmm...oh, I suppose not. Golly, who would’ve thought that Fat Cat would’ve stooped so low as to use itching powder at a dog show and then try to steal the trophies? Of course, he couldn’t have won them legitimately. I wonder why there aren’t cat shows?”
       “There are, lass,” Monty said, shuddering at the thought. “They just aren’t as popular—can’t imagine why…”
       “If Fat Cat’s any example, it’d be a total disaster,” Chip quipped. “Let’s get back to headquarters. I want to make sure no one’s left us any messages about new cases.” Monty rolled his eyes, the sarcasm rolling off his tongue. “Too right. Be a bloomin’ shame to have only one case today and haveta spend the rest of the time loungin’ around.”
       “You said it!” Chip said, enthused by the thought. “Rescue Rangers, away!”
       “Me an’ my big mouth,” Monty mumbled, under his breath, as the RangerWing neared its home base.

       Later that afternoon, Danny met up with Sawyer again, this time outside Studio 17 of Lot C, the building reserved for the shooting of Danny’s film. Animal actors of every era and size poured out of the building, from King Kong and Grape Ape to Atom Ant and Felix the Cat. Sawyer for her part looked a little worse for wear, having been through several hours of auditions. “You wouldn’t believe what some of them are asking just for part-time work,” Sawyer started in.
       Danny was as peppy up as ever. “Oh, don’t worry about that, Sawyer. L.B. will handle the money details. I can’t wait to start directing this masterpiece!” Sawyer got up in Danny’s face. “Can’t you take this seriously? Danny, this is a big responsibility! You can’t sing and dance your way through it. Directing’s a lot tougher than being in front of the camera.”
       “Oh, I’ve seen Flanigan do it hundreds of times, and all he does is tell everyone where to be and when to hit their cues. Besides, if I mess up he’s still assistant director on this flick. I’m sure he’ll help out if I miss something.”
       “Well, just so that you’re aware of how tough it is,” Sawyer said, dubious. “The hopes and dreams of lots of animals are riding on the success of this movie and there are lots of people who would love to see you fail—see all of us fail for that matter.”
       Danny took Sawyer’s hand and guided her over to a small al fresco table outside the nearby commissary. “I know it’s risky, Sawyer, but it’s all been a risk so far. Who would’ve thought that we’d be two of the biggest stars in Hollywood, huh? It took every bit of faith I had to stick it out, and...” Danny took her hand again. “…I think I also had to borrow some of someone else’s.”
       Sawyer glanced away for a moment. She’d been embarrassed at the Derby by his antics and meant to tell him so, but now he’d taken her out of train of thought. Danny was by no means a romancer, but he’d take her out on dates every week and when their schedules weren’t running their lives they’d go for a day trip to Palm Springs or Monterey. She looked back, locking onto his eyes, and let her initial frustration go. “I wouldn’t have had any faith to give if you hadn’t given me my own faith back first. This town can really take a lot out of you. You don’t get very far alone here.”
       Danny smiled back at her. “Don’t I know it. You’ve always been there for me, and I just wanted to say, well, that it’s meant a lot to me. It still does.”
       Sawyer looked into those eyes that were beaming at her, and that special something came over her. Slowly the world around them faded into the background, and Sawyer seemed to hear music coming from somewhere as she started to lean forward. Danny leaned in toward her as well, taking her in his arms, and their eyes started to close. Just then, a shout from across the lot broke them out of their nearly-special moment. It was Flanigan, and he appeared on the verge of panic as he ran up to the seated cats.

       “Oh dear, what a calamity!” Flanigan said, waving his arms in a frenzy. “What a disaster!” Sawyer frowned, letting Danny go and turning to the frantic director. “Flanigan! This better be really, really important!” Flanigan sat down between them, catching his breath. “Oh, it’s the most horrible, the most unimaginable, the most...”
       “WHAT IS IT!?” the two cats demanded. Flanigan grabbed Danny by the collar, who in turn grabbed Sawyer’s arm as he was pulled along. “Come along, quickly!”
       The printer’s office was halfway across the lot, but Flanigan was doing his Michael Johnson impression, Danny and Sawyer flying behind in tow, and they were there in less than a minute. Flanigan slammed the office door shut, then checked to make sure no one was inside.
       Danny gasped in surprise at the sight in front of him. “When, where, what, why, how?” The office was in a shambles, papers strewn everywhere. Sawyer recovered herself from the breakneck dash they’d done, and one look at the place was enough to justify Flanigan’s ravings.“Why do we even pay security here, if people can just waltz in like this? What did they take?”
       Flanigan gulped and pointed to Danny. Sawyer’s mouth dropped open. “You mean…his script!”
       “I’m afraid so,” Flanigan said. Sawyer’s pulse doubled as she looked to her friend. “Danny, please tell me you had more than one copy!”
       The orange tabby started to perspire. “Well, I—”
       “Oh, no...”
       L.B. walked in and quickly shut the door again. He was beside himself with worry, wringing his hands. “Oh, if this gets out...or worse if the script gets out! A leak now could cost us more than any profits we’d make!”
       The studio owner tried to steady himself, but the thought of ruin didn’t make things any easier. “With all the hype we’ve already paid for, we simply have to recover that script intact! Danny, I’m putting you in charge of it. You’ve got as much invested in it as any of us. And remember, no police. No one here can know about this, not even your old friends. We can’t have this getting out to the press, or it could be the end!”
       Sawyer, as always, was the levelheaded one. “You’re leaving the recovery of a stolen script to an actor/director? Okay, I can see your desire to avoid the press. They’d think that this was just a publicity stunt. And we do need some help of the private type. We need someone who can be discreet and doesn’t mind working for animals.”
       Danny thought a moment, then his countenance brightened. “You can count on me, sir! We’ll find out who’s done this and make them wish they hadn’t! And I know just who to call on for this, too. I just hope they’re available.”
       “Whoever it is, I want them on the case yesterday!” L.B. barked. “Get them here and save my...the studio’s reputation!” Danny nodded resolutely and led Sawyer outside, while Flanigan bit his nails and did his best to console his boss.
       “You up for a quick trip to the Big Apple?” Danny asked. Sawyer raised her eyebrows in surprise. “New York? Why all that way?”
       “You’ll see. We need an experienced investigative team with a proven track record. Besides, New York’s been good to us. Remember our Broadway reviews?”
       “You better believe it, Danny,” Sawyer said, smirking. “I love that town. But who’s so important that we have to go all that way?” Danny pulled out a cell phone and placed a call, then returned his attention to Sawyer. “Let’s head for the airport. We’ve got the Mammoth jet warming up in the bullpen as we speak!”
       In a montage sequence, Danny and Sawyer quickly prepared, then rode to the airport. The Mammoth Studios private Cessna C-10 was there, primed and waiting. A valet rolled a red carpet down from the plane’s hatch over the stairs in time to cover the bottom step before they could step on it. The cats boarded, the hatch closed and within a minute they were in the air. Danny read the latest movie society papers while Sawyer checked over their movie budget, wincing a couple of times. When they landed at LaGuardia, a car was already waiting to pick them up.
       The Rangers had just finished dinner, and the sounds of Dale grumbling emanated from the kitchen. It was his turn to do the dishes—they’d switched to hard plastic quite a while back—and the fun-loving chipmunk grimaced, his arms halfway in the sudsy dishwater. “Why can’t Gadget invent an automatic dishwasher...”
       In the main room, the Rangers were watching the evening news. Stan Blather, their favorite news reporter, was doing a live shot. “...and the news on the war front continues to be wait-and-see. In the world of entertainment, Mammoth Studios’ chairman L.B. Mammoth today expressed great hopes for his company’s upcoming film, ‘A Street Cat Named Desiree’.”
       L.B. Mammoth’s visage appeared on-screen. “We expect ‘Street Cat’ to be one of this studio’s greatest achievements.” The picture switched back to Stan. “Word has it that Danny Cat is writing and directing this modern musical interpretation of the Tennessee Williams classic. Studio security is extra-tight to prevent any leaks, but we understand filming will begin in two weeks.”
       Gadget turned to the others, sitting on the semicircular sofa with her. “Golly, I bet filmmaking must be exciting! Think of all the great inventions that have gone into just making movies.”
       “Too right,” Monty said. “Why, I remember seeing those old crank-reel cameras they used to use. Me dad, Cheddarhead Charlie, got hold of one once. Filmed a year of his life he did—won the documentary award at the Cannes Film Festival, too! Of course, he traded it in for a one-way ticket to Timbuktu and their annual goat cheese festival.”
       “Just image, being able to be a movie star!” Dale said. “The fast cars, the fame, the food!” Chip turned around as Dale came into the room, still wearing his dishwashing gloves. “Take those things off, Dale! You’re making a mess out of the floor. Did you clean all the dishes this time?”
       Dale saluted, splashing water on the sofa. “Chip, they’re so clean you could eat off of ‘em!” Chip rolled his eyes—he was never one for patience where Dale was concerned. “That’s the idea, silly. Now put those gloves back in the kitchen and get back here! The movie’s about to start.”
       Dale totally ignored Chip’s order and jumped over the top of the sofa, landing right between him and Gadget. “Oboyoboyoboy! Which one is it tonight?” Gadget was oblivious as usual to the munk-fighting over who got to sit next to her. “Well, I thought since all the movie talk’s about Danny at the moment, we’d watch one of his. How about one of his hits from the 70’s, like ‘Squeaky Clean Dancing’ or ‘Sunday Morning Bedrest’?”
       “Booooriiiing!” Dale shouted. “Hasn’t he made any movies with car chases or explosions?” Gadget crossed her arms, frustrated. “Jeepers Dale, is that all you like? Danny’s always tried to push for nice movies with a positive and uplifting message to them. Isn’t that more important than a few random explosions and gratuitous onscreen violence?”
       Dale thought on it. “Uh…nope.”
       “Gotta go along with you there, Dale,” Monty said. “A bloke needs a bit of a punch-up ta have some fun every now and again. All that dancin’ and singin’, well, it’s all right but it’s not Monterey Jack’s cup of tea.”
       “Well, I think it’s good,” Chip said. “After all, he’s brought some higher culture to the masses. And that’s always worthwhile.” Monty shrugged. “If you say so, mate. Me, I prefer a good dust-up or two. After all, when was the last time a dancer scared anyone?”
       A knock came at the door. Dale (who still had those gloves on) rushed to be first but due to his slippery gloves he couldn’t get the door open. Monty got up to give him a hand and opened it for him. Those at the couch could hear the gasp in Monty’s voice. “!”
       Chip jumped up like lightning, the thought flashing through his mind that their greatest enemy, the nefarious Fat Cat, had finally found them. The other Rangers took cover as well, thinking the same thing. Monty for his part was frozen in place, so it was a good thing that it wasn’t a criminal at the door. Dale peeped around the paralyzed Aussie to see a smiling, well-dressed orange tabby cat sitting cross-legged on the limb outside their door.
       Danny took off his straw hat, which he still liked to wear when he traveled. “Hi there! Is this the home of the Rescue Rangers?” Dale looked at the smiling feline’s face and took on a smile of his own. “Gosh, you look just like that cat from the movies! Uh yes, we’re the Rescue Rangers! What can we rescue you from?”
       The cat took on a hopeful look. “Um, total financial ruin?”
       Dale couldn’t remember anyone having come to them for that reason, but then again there was always a first time. “Okay, that sounds reasonable. Come, outside and we’ll talk. Hey gang, look who’s here!” Dale walked outside, wishing he’d brought his autograph book. The others got up from their hiding places and came to the door.
       “Gee willikers! It’s Danny!” Gadget said.
       Monty was still frozen in place, but Zipper had flown to the kitchen and brought back a thimbleful of water. Chip promptly doused him with it. “Pwah, wha...what happened!” Monty shouted, starting to punch the air. “Where’s the fight?”
       “No fight here, Monty,” Chip said, then gestured outside. “Say hello to our new client, Danny!” Monty looked, and the cat was still sitting there, smiling and waving his fingers at him. He didn’t freeze up this time, but he was still dubious. “Uh, right. Pleased to meet ya—I think.”
       The Rangers and Danny climbed down the treehouse to the lawn below. Sawyer took one look at the lot of them and wondered whatever had possessed Danny to think these little animals were the answer to their troubles. Danny saw the look of course, and knew it well. “Look Sawyer, I know they’re not that big, but they’ve solved countless crimes like this! Our old friend Canina La Fur recommended them to me especially. She said that Mortimer here—”
       “Mont-er-ey…” the Aussie growled—Canina had a penchant for mistaking his name.
       “Er, Monterey helped her out of a big jam,” Danny continued. Sawyer wasn’t convinced by any means. “But that was years and years and years ago! I’ve heard of them too, but I think they’re a little out of their league.”
       Chip climbed up on top of a nearby park bench, getting at eye level with Sawyer. “Hey, we may not be big, but that’s never stopped us! We’ve beaten international spies, smuggling rings, supervillians, evil twins, and corporate and animal pirates. If you’ve got a problem, we’re willing to help!”
       “I suppose it’s too late to call some Pinkertons in on this...” Sawyer mused. “Okay, here’s the deal. Someone stole the script to our upcoming movie and we have to get it back as quickly as possible.”
       “Stole it? Golly, that’s terrible!” Gadget said. “That’d be like someone stealing the blueprints to one of my inventions.”
       “True, but it’s worse,” Danny said. “Unless we can get it back before filming begins, we’re looking at a hundred million-dollar project down the tubes! Not to mention my life savings.” Chip loved a big case, and this was about as big as they came. “It looks like you’ve hired yourself some detectives. We’ll leave immediately and find that script for you. Rescue Rangers, away!”
       Dale ran in front of Danny. “But first, could I have your autograph?” Danny grinned. “Sure, be glad to!” Dale rushed back up inside the treehouse, and while they waited Danny began to explain more about the robbery to Chip. They were interrupted by a high-pitched squeal that came from across the park lawn. It was a red-haired teenaged squirrel that was a friend to the Rangers, and had a huge crush on Chip. In this case, Tammy wasn’t looking at Chip, but at the cat speaking with him
       “DANNY!” Tammy zoomed across the lawn in far less time than any of them thought possible. The girl just stood there in her rolled-up jeans and pink shirt, the bottom of it not tucked in as usual. Just like Monty, she was frozen, but it was from being totally star-struck. Danny of course was used to this, and took it in stride.
       “Hello there, little lady,” Danny said. “Are you okay?”
       “Uh-huh...” she sighed.
       Danny stuck out his hand to shake hers. “I’m Danny. What’s your name?”
       Chip chuckled. “Her name’s Tammy, Danny.” Tammy took his hand, but still seemed barely aware of her surroundings. Dale came back, and Danny signed his autograph book. Then he asked Dale for a blank page and wrote one out for his admirer. “Let’s see…’to Tammy...thanks for being such an adoring fan...Danny.’ There you go!”
       Tammy took the autograph, her sparkling eyes still fixed on Danny. He waved goodbye to her, and motioned Sawyer and the Rangers to the waiting car. As they left, Tammy snapped back to reality. “It happened! IT REALLY HAPPENED! Oh, I’ll never wash this hand again! Nevernevernever!”

       As the giddy squirrel bounded off, Danny continued to explain the problems they were facing. Chip went into detective mode, already letting his mind try to sort things out. “So, who would be the most likely candidates to do something like this? Who would profit most by the picture not showing?” Danny shared a look with Sawyer. “Well, there’s always Darla of course...”
       “Darla Dimple?” Dale said. “I heard she was dead. Okay, anybody else?” Sawyer ran through the list in her mind. “Any of the rival studios could be involved—MouseWorks, Luniversal, Paramoot...not to mention the small-timers who’d like to see Mammoth Studios in the tank. If any of them get their hands on that script, the game’s up.”
       “And there’s always the chance that either the media or an overzealous fan broke in somehow,” Danny said. “Whatever the case, we’ve got to act fast.”
       “We can’t just assume it’s an enemy,” Chip said. “Even someone you think of as a friend could be behind this. We’ll need to investigate anyone close to this project and look into motive. You’re right, though, we’d better hurry. There’s not much time to waste. As a precaution, Danny, I’d suggest you get to work on a new script. Do it all from memory if you have too.”
       Danny rubbed his temples, trying to bring the world into focus. “You’re right of course. I’ll try, but I really just typed the story as I went along in a stream of consciousness. Whatever you need while you’re in Hollywood, just let me know.”
       Dale assumed a “wise old man” pose. “As Yoda says, ‘there is no try’.”
       Monty, who didn’t dare take his eyes off Sawyer or Danny, gulped at the thought he voiced. “The sooner we’ve solved this case, the sooner we’re not working with ca...cats!”
       Sawyer ignored the Aussie’s trepidation. “And if we don’t solve this quick, there’s no more Mammoth Studios. I’m going to go along with you on your investigation.” Chip immediately took exception with that idea. “You? No, you’re not!” Sawyer got right in his face. “And why not, pray tell?”
       “Because you’d only slow us down or blow our cover!” Chip countered. “Everyone in Hollywood knows you, not to mention everywhere else.”
       “I don’t care! I’m not going to sit on the sidelines and watch while everything in life that’s important to me hangs in the balance.”
       “She does have a point there, Chip,” Gadget said. “Besides, she could probably open some doors that we couldn’t.” Dale nodded, pointing at Sawyer. “That’s obvious! She’s like, three feet taller than us.”
       Chip bonked Dale on the noggin. “She means Sawyer has influence, nuthead! Which she does, but we can’t be seen with her or whoever’s involved will know something’s up. All right, Sawyer, you can run interference for us. Use your influence to gather attention wherever we go, and that’ll make it easier for us to slip into areas unnoticed.”
       “Some of us won’t even need help,” Zipper buzzed.

       The car stopped at the airport, and soon the Rangers were flying first-class to Hollywood. When the plane landed, Dale ran down the red-carpeted steps, having put on dark shades he got from somewhere. “Talent scouts, here I am! Dale Oakmont, fame and fortune hunter!”
       Dale looked for any sign of approval, but the tarmac was empty. “Aw, nuts! Guess we’ll have to stick with detective work a while longer.” Sawyer took her time, stopping when she got to Dale. “You remind me of me when I got to this town, Dale. But it’s got a dark side you wouldn’t believe. Stay naïve, you’ll enjoy your trip better that way.”
       “I’m always naïve!” Dale said. “It makes the day go faster!”
       They piled into the waiting limo, and soon they were at the majestic Mammoth Studios. Dale was running first to one side of the car, then the other, pointing at the buildings and actors he’d seen in dozens upon dozens of movies. “Wow, and there’s the old steam engine they used in ‘Death Train From Planet Z’, and the old haunted house from ‘Flying Vampire Rutabagas’ and...”
       “Is he always like this?” Danny interrupted.
       “No, it’s usually worse,” Chip said.
       They drove on through the various lots, reaching the printing office. Everything was just as it had been when Danny left, and the Rangers went to work immediately. After a series of tests, painstaking analyses and following up a few theories, Chip reported to Danny, now at eye level with his client thanks to the tall partition at the front of the office where printing requests were received. “I’d say whoever did this was thorough, and did their best to make it look like a random robbery,” Chip said. “So many papers were strewn around, it gives it the feeling of a deliberate cover-up.”
       Gadget emerged from a cloud of dusting powder. “Jeepers, they didn’t leave fingerprints or anything!” Chip returned his attention to Danny. “It almost had to be an inside job, since the thief knew when the office would be empty. Who had access to this place at the time of the robbery?”
       “I think I can answer that one.” L.B. strode in, with Flanigan at his side. “I spoke with the printing office manager, and the list is a long one. Any of the studio janitors could’ve gotten in—they all have keys. The senior staff has keys as well, including myself, Danny, Sawyer, Flanigan—”
       At that moment, Flanigan tapped L.B.’s shoulder. “Actually, sir, I no longer have mine.”
       “What’s this?” L.B. asked. Flanigan ducked in embarrassment. “I sort of...lost my executive set. I had to get them replaced, and I’m still waiting for the duplicates from security.”
       “That’s two good possibilities, then,” Chip said. “We’ll look into the janitorial and security staff for any irregularities.” Sawyer broke in on him. “You’d better do it after-hours, which incidentally is about to get underway. The studio closes in just under an hour.”

       Danny headed for the door. “Say, why don’t I take all of you out for a nice dinner, and then you can come back and get started? I’ve rented a nice suite at the Hollywood Palace for you when you need to rest.”
       The others appeared to be about to accept Danny’s offer, but Chip spoke up first. “We really appreciate the offer, but we’ve got to focus all our energy on the case. When we’ve solved it, then we’ll be more than willing to take you up on that. Don’t forget to get working on your script!” Dale rushed up to his leader. “But Chip, I wanna pow-wow with the big-wigs! Schmooze with the movers and shakers! Sell my life story!”
       “There’ll be time enough for that later, Dale. If we get this case done in time, I’m sure doors will open all over and even you’d be able to sell a story here.”
       “Zowie, do you think so?” Dale asked, getting excited. “Maybe we could sell a story about the Rangers, and then we’d get our own movie or a series on DVD!” Chip sighed and shrugged, looking apologetically at Danny and Sawyer. “Could you have something brought in for us?”
       “No problem, Chip,” Danny said. “Hollywood’s made for that. I’m going to see what I can recover of my script from memory. Sawyer, are you staying here?” Sawyer headed for the door with Danny. “I’ll let them handle it for tonight, but when they start touring the studios in the morning I’ll help them out. I think you and I need to talk some, anyway.”
       “My thoughts exactly,” L.B. said. “Well Danny, it appears that you’ve got some experienced detectives on the job. Keep me updated.”

       The famous cats left the Rangers to do their work, and drove out of the studio. They had houses right next to each other in Beverly Hills, and each one had come to treat the other’s house as their own in matters of daily routine. Sawyer went with Danny to his house, where he had set up his writing area in a private drafting room.
       Danny did his writing on an old Corona typewriter, in fact the same one that he had used when he infiltrated Mammoth Studios and added the names of his friends to the invitation list for Darla Dimple’s premiere. He’d considered it lucky, so he’d stuck with it. Now, he sat down in front of the old keyboard, put a sheet of paper in, and sat there. “Oh boy...maybe I should’ve upgraded to a computer, like you asked me to.”
       “I could have one here in less than an hour for you,” Sawyer said.
       Danny eyed his old typewriter like it was an old friend, as it truly was to him. “Uh, naw, better not. This will do fine. Okay, page one, scene how did the rest of the 90 pages go?” Danny scratched his head, trying to put it all back into words. “Let’s quarterback...”
       “Danny, we need to talk,” Sawyer said. Danny kept on banging the keys. “Uh, sure. What’s the topic?” Sawyer sat down, trying to think of the best way to open the conversation. “I’m not sure those Rangers are going to find anyone. Yes, I know that they’re supposed to have a reputation as detectives and that you like them. I’m starting to like them a little myself, but…”
       “Say, could you give me a hand?” Danny asked, pointing to one of the typewriter keys that had stuck. “You know more about the ins-and-outs of these things than I do.” Sawyer got between him and his Corona. “Danny, are you listening? You’re so wrapped up in getting this script done that you don’t seem to be thinking straight!”
       “What do you mean?” Danny asked. “I’m just doing what I can to get things back in shape for filming and all.”
       “I mean, we should be looking for the crook, not a bunch of pint-sized sleuths!” Sawyer said. “Or better yet, someone with the size and muscle to handle whoever’s taken your script!” Danny knew it was more than that now. “What are you so worked up about, Starlight?”
       “I’m worked up because you’ve put your entire self-worth on the line, and if this falls through I’m afraid that you’ll—” she stopped, looking at him curiously. “What did you call me?”
       Danny ducked his head a little. “You remember—I started calling you that after I sang that song, ‘You Are My Lucky Star’.” Sawyer looked down a moment, remembering. She did recall it, and when she looked back she was smiling. “You haven’t called me that in a long time.” Danny smiled back. “Well, when you started getting upset, I remembered how you acted that way in the movie and it just clicked. But you are my Starlight, though. It’s there, in your eyes, in the way you move, the way you sing.”
       “Oh, Danny,” she said, shaking her head. “What am I going to do with you?”
       “Help me to make this next dream come true, I guess,” Danny said. “Now, let’s see what’s next.”

       With Sawyer’s help, Danny got his Corona going again and worked up a basic summary of his original story, attempting to expand it from there. After an hour, he stood up, exhausted. “Sawyer, it’s just no good!” the tabby cried. “I spent weeks coming up with original ideas, the songs and even the choreography! I can’t possibly recreate all that in time for filming! If the Rangers don’t come through for us...if they don’t come through, we’ll be broke, finished.”
       Sawyer knew that Danny could get down on himself, especially when others were depending on him. “Hey! Don’t lose hope, Danny. What happened to that swinging cat who could belt out a song and dance number at any time or place? You’ve been so intent on this project for so long, maybe you’ve lost sight of the old magic. You’ve got to calm down, relax! Let your mind drift back to the good old days for once. Get in touch with the old Danny.”
       Deliberately, Sawyer walked over to the record player. Danny couldn’t bring himself to upgrade from his beloved 78’s to 33’s (he’d never dream of upgrading to CDs). She took out a jazzy classic and put it on. “You always worked better with music playing.”
       Danny was about to protest when the beat of Benny Goodman’s “One O’Clock Jump” got to him. His feet started tapping, his eyes closed, and a contented smile formed on his face. As the volume rose, he leaped into the air and came down by Sawyer, taking her hand. She smiled and let her dancing blood take over, and soon they were nearly flying across the room. They cavorted like young kittens, moving to the rhythm, and when it finished they were both on a higher level.
       Danny immediately headed back for the typewriter. “Okay, maybe I won’t get the whole story back, but I can least get all of it I can. And maybe I can even write it better the second time!”

       Sawyer stayed with Danny for a while to make sure he got off to a good start on his script-writing, then retired to her own home. In terms of interior design, it was the total opposite of Danny’s nostalgic tastes. Everything was white, bright, spacious and modern. Sawyer liked things cozy and convenient when she came home, and her butler, Stevens, a faithful old Himalayan cat, did his best to assure that all was to her tastes.
       Such was the case now and after a few words of praise for her servant, Sawyer slipped into bed quietly. Tomorrow was sure to be a long day.

Chapter 2 – A Change in Plans, a Change in Perspective, and Some Loose Change

       When the dawn came, Sawyer found the Rangers assembled at the gate to Mammoth studios. “So, who’s going to check out Mammoth’s rivals with me?” Both Chip and Dale tried to side up with Gadget, but Chip ended up pushing the red-nosed munk forward. “You go with Sawyer, Dale. You know the movie lingo better than the rest of us put together.”
       Dale wanted to stay, but he had to admit what Chip said made sense. “But I...oh, all right. Guess I’ll have to check out all the glitz and glamour for myself!” Monty stepped forward. “What about me and Zipper, Chip?”
       “You go and check out Darla Dimple,” Chip said, checking off a list on a clipboard he was holding. “See if she’s got anything to do with this.” Monty and Zipper saluted. “If that lass is up ta something, we’ll find it out!” Monty said.
       “And what’ll I do, Chip?” Gadget asked.
       “I need you to help me check over the rest of Mammoth Studios. I’d also like to interview the cast and crew for Danny’s picture.”
       Sawyer pointed behind them. “You’ll find them on Lot C, Chip. Stage 17. They’re all down there this morning, getting the scenery in shape and the cast is getting fitted for costumes. Just remember, they don’t know anything about this, so don’t let it slip.” Chip liked things well ordered, and so far things were to his liking. “Good! We’ll meet back here tonight and compare notes.”

       The three groups went their separate ways. Dale quickly forgot the wrangling over Gadget, because there was so much else to catch his attention. Sawyer needed to check with Danny first before heading for Luniversal, Mammoth’s chief competitor, so they headed off for Beverly Hills. Dale was a ball of energy, looking left and right at all the action movie sets on the Mammoth lot as they left the studio.
       “I can’t believe I’m finally in Hollywood!” Dale exclaimed. “The magic town! You’re so lucky; you have all kinds of excitement and adventure. People look up to you and you’re around all these famous people—well, you’re even famous. I wish I was a star!”
       Sawyer pulled out her appointment book, making some notes. “Dale, it’s not all peaches and cream, you know. You have most of your life scripted, just like the roles we play. The studio tells you where to go, what to do, what parties you have to be at and who you have to be nice to. You end up having to share yourself with a lot more people than you ever thought you would, and inevitably something you didn’t want anyone knowing about will get leaked by a snoopy entertainment reporter. But all that aside, it’s a pretty decent life as long as you don’t let it all go to your head.”
       “Heh, nothing goes to my head!” Dale said, pointing at his noggin. “Well, except Chip’s fist when he’s mad and all.”
       “Why does he do that do you?” Sawyer asked. “Why do you let him?”
       “Aw, it’s nothin’,” Dale said. “Chip doesn’t really mean it. It’s just the way he’s always done. Chip likes everything just-so, and I’m just-so out of control!”
       “Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Sawyer said. “Well, try to keep it under control for a bit, okay?”
       Dale managed to rein in his curiosity for a minute, but that was about as much willpower as the munk had. “Well, I guess nothing really is like how it looks like on the outside. Is being in the movies as exciting as watching ‘em?” Sawyer smiled, the topic turning to a favorite subject. “Oh, a lot more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of hard work. But when you’re in the spotlight and you feel that freedom it’s unlike any other feeling. Especially when I sing or dance, it’s there, because it’s a part of me reaching out to the audience.”
       “I’m kinda surprised the studio’s making a musical,” Dale said. “That stuff hasn’t been popular since my folks were kids. Maybe if the musical had car chases and explosions it might work.”
       Sawyer turned an annoyed eye in Dale’s direction. “Excuse me? I beg to differ there. Musicals are timeless, and if they weren’t popular then Broadway would just be an ordinary street name!” Dale ducked his head, forgetting who he was talking with. “Sorry, ma’am. I’m just not into that kinda stuff. It’s weird just watching people pretend to suddenly burst into song. Things like that don’t happen in real life, but explosions and all do.”
       “Oh, singing does happen, but only if you’re open to it and looking in the right places,” Sawyer said as they approached their destination. “Okay Stevens, we’ll get out here.” When Sawyer and Dale pulled up to the adjoining mansions that were Danny and Sawyer’s homes, the munk’s sense of awe shot through the roof. “Wowie-zowie! Real movie-star homes! Can I see your place too? Huh, can I? CanIhuhcanI?”
       Sawyer spoke a few quick words to Stevens, then started toward her house. “Come on, but we better make it quick. I figure Danny’s hard at work, and he’ll want to know what we’re planning to do.”

       Sawyer’s house was immaculate and modern, inside and out. A two-story white Colonial style edifice with green shutters, it spoke of both brightness and a conservative liking for style. That style was accentuated on the porch, with a big green-and-gold “welcome” bow on the front door, plus several beautiful ornamental potted hibiscus and geraniums.
       When they walked in, Dale found his first impression of the house augmented. Where the exterior said “welcome”, the interior said “hope you like it, because I do”. Twin spiral staircases were accented by chrome banisters leading down to the black-and-white checkered marble floor of the entryway.
       As they walked toward the stairs, a spacious doorway revealed a high-ceilinged living room to the left. The floor here was covered by an off-white berber rug, with plush white area rugs under the tables and in front of the large fireplace. The sofa was a plush white as well, giving the whole area a feeling of openness. Modest pictures of Sawyer, Danny, and Sawyer’s family and friends lined the walls. A skylight in the ceiling let in warming sunshine to further give the room that airy feeling.
       The duo continued on, finding another door to the right. This was the way to Sawyer’s professional-looking kitchen that could be shut off when company was over. Felix her chef ruled this domain, and she let him have free rein to create all of his culinary masterpieces. Behind the ornate stairs were two smaller rooms, one to the left a trophy room that was more for guests to look at than herself, and to the opposite side an entertainment room with a big-screen television, surround speakers built into the walls, and an alcove in the wall full of the latest electronic audio and video gizmos.
       In short, Dale was enraptured. “Wow! I could stay in here for months and never got bored! I don’t suppose you’d like a houseguest—say for a year or two?” Sawyer chuckled. “You’re pretty entertaining, but I think we’d be shouting at each other by day three. We’d better be getting over to Danny’s house and see how he’s doing with that script.”

       Dale had been impressed with Sawyer’s house, but Danny’s went beyond that for him. A stately-looking ivy-covered brick manor-style building, the edifice gave the impression of age just looking at it. “Danny had this building moved from England and reassembled here,” Sawyer explained as they walked up the front walkway. “It used to belong to some old toad or something like that.”
       The front door was a huge oaken thing, and when they knocked one of Danny’s servants—a lion named Leo—bowed and showed them in. “Master Danny is in his writing study, Miss Sawyer. If you and your companion would wait in the memento room?”
       Sawyer and Dale headed to the right on the wooden floor, bedecked with Oriental rugs, to a similarly-floored room. The memento room was an homage to early Hollywood, and particularly to the musicals and animals of the period. The natural wood walls were littered with photo frames, with personalized autographs from such greats as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Rin Tin Tin.
       Dale also noticed a picture of the MGM lion, and looked back to Danny’s servant. “Say, Leo…”
       “Yes?” the lion responded.
       “Uh, nevermind…”
       Several custom display cases showed memorabilia from such movies as “Wizard of Oz”, “Singing in the Rain”, and “An American In Paris”. One small item was displayed with some extra ostentation—a glass case holding two bus tickets. Dale read the inscription. “Hey wow! ‘The ticket on the left was the one I bought to come to Hollywood. The second was the ticket I bought to go home, and it was on that bus that inspiration finally hit me and I made my big break onto the Hollywood scene.’ “
       “He’s a fool for sentimental things,” Sawyer said. “He saved everything he could from all our movies and—” Leo returned, bowing. “Miss Sawyer, Master Danny did not respond to my knocking.” Sawyer let out a slight chuckle. “If I know him, he’s probably cat-napping. When we were on the movie sets, you could always find him snoozing away between scenes in that monogrammed chair of his when it was warm.”
       “I’m fond of chipmunk napping myself,” Dale said. “Especially when the late, late, late show’s over.” Sawyer and Dale followed Leo through the austere house to another room with a large door. Sawyer knocked then opened it, finding the cat in question using his typewriter for a pillow. “I thought so.”
       Sawyer padded over, Dale in tow. She pushed Danny a couple of times on the back of his shoulder, causing him to blink and yawn. When he sat up, his audience chuckled at the sight—the typewriter’s keys had left a pattern on his facial fur.
       “Wakey, wakey, Prince Charming,” Sawyer half-sung. “You’ve got visitors.” Dale jumped up and down, doing his best to be noticed. “Wow, Sawyer’s been showing me all kinds of cool Hollywood stuff!” Danny shook off his sleepiness, embarrassed. “Oh, hello there! Sorry, must’ve dozed off. So, what’s the plan for today?”
       “We’re headed to Luniversal as soon as you’ve had time to stretch and wake up,” Sawyer said. “You didn’t skip breakfast, did you?” Danny woofed down the half-eaten muffin on the plate by his typewriter. “Of course not! But uh, maybe it would be good to get up and stretch some. How’s about I show you my place, Dale?”
       “That would be great!” Dale said, then changed his voice to a Robin Leach tone. “Lifestyles of the Rich and Furry!”

       Danny laughed while Sawyer shook her head, and the song and dance cat led the tour. The old manor house had a sense of warmth in its interior, like its owner. To the right of the writing study was an old library, imported with the original house. Antique clocks and furniture accented the room’s feel, with a working turn-of-the-century dial face phone as the final touch. Danny showed them through his private theater, pictures of old movies and movie stars lining the walls, and a vintage projector in the rear.
       When they came to Danny’s entertainment room, Dale was expecting something like Sawyer’s setup. Instead they found an old Philco black-and-white television set from the fifties in mint condition, with a mélange of unique-looking antique radios of all sorts filling the room. Last on the tour was Danny’s dance rehearsal and exercise room—a mirrored room with the usual wooden railings on the walls in front of the mirrors for stretching and a well-worn wooden floor that spoke of the hours of practice its master had put in.
       “Well, I hope you like the place, Dale!” Danny said, resting a hand on one of the railings. “This room’s probably my favorite, because here I’ll work up new dance steps and choreography. Musicals take a lot of work and preparation, but the payoff’s great, don’t you think?”
       Dale wanted to be nice, but also honest. “Well, Chip did force me to watch ‘My Fair Lady’ once, it was okay. And then there was the time we all went to the opera and had to listen to fat people hollering in Italian for a few hours and then everyone died at the end. I dunno, Danny. I’m not much into musicals.” He whiffed his fists through the air, boxing against a pretend foe. “If you beat people up while singing and dancing, then I’d probably watch it more!”
       Dale’s reaction caught Danny off-guard. He was used to having people compliment him, but Dale was pretty frank in his comment. “You…don’t like musicals? But you seem like such a fun-loving guy! Surely you like to sing and dance, don’t you?”
       “Song and dance isn’t ‘real’ enough anymore! People want the darker and edgier stuff. I like to see good versus evil and the bad guy getting crushed by the hero! There aren’t really any musicals or any kind of song and dance stuff you can do with that. There’s no, well, no ‘Terminator, the Musical’!”

       Danny stared at him for a few moments, and Sawyer was afraid that he’d want to terminate this critical munk right then and there. However, that wasn’t what happened. “Hmm... ‘Terminator, the Musical’...” Danny mused.
       Sawyer saw the speculative look in Danny’s eyes, and didn’t like it. “Uh oh—when he starts to ‘hmm’, something’s about to come up...” Danny’s face changed in an instant then, going from a look that was deep in thought to a ‘Eureka’ moment. “THAT’S IT! That’s what was missing!”
       Danny shook Dale’s hand vigorously. “Wow, I can’t thank you enough!”
       “Huh? What?” Dale said, totally clueless. “Uh, what did I do? Uh, I mean, I meant to do that! Sawyer, what did I do?” Sawyer watched as Danny ran off, yelling at Leo to give him a pencil and some paper. “You got me, Dale. When he’s like this, it’s best to humor him.”
       Danny came back in a couple of minutes, all charged up. “Wow, is this musical ever going to have a great climax! The home team comes out on the field, led by their brave quarterback, the game on the line. On the other size—Max the Marauder. He’s determined to take our hero down, and it’s a battle of wills and strength combined with upbeat musical flair that’ll have the audience begging for a sequel! That reminds me, better find out where Max is these days…”
       Dale watched the hyperactive cat skipping around the room. “A musical sequel? I’ve never heard of anything like that. And a football musical? Guys singing and tackling each other?”
       “Well, not at the same time of course,” Danny said, now writing again. “But it’ll combine the sheer energy and pulse-pounding power of the sport with a great hero rising above the odds to save the day! And of course, a strong and supportive female lead to make sure he gets there, right Sawyer?”
       Sawyer crossed her arms and smiled in a “what else” expression. “How could he hope to triumph without his girl Friday?”
       “Exactly! Dale, that’s what the musical world’s all about—adapting while keeping that fun-loving spirit to it. Say, why don’t you and I try something? I bet you’re a natural when it comes to fun.”
       Dale took a step backwards. “Me, sing and dance? I’ve done a little, but mainly just the times on cases where we had to whip up a routine on the spot with no preparations. But that’s completely different.” Danny wasn’t fazed by his protests a bit. “Oh, not at all! Sawyer, if you would?”

       Sawyer went over to Danny’s antique record player and inspected a line of records he had on two long shelves. Selecting one, she pulled out the old platter and set it on the turntable. Giving the player a couple of turns on its crankshaft, she got it going and put the needle in place. The music was Tommy Dorsey’s “Flying Home”, a real hot jazz tune. Immediately, Danny’s feet were tapping.
       “Okay Dale, just watch me and follow my lead!” Danny said.
       “But I don’t know how to—”
       Danny started to sway with the quick beat of the trombones and trumpets, smiling more all the time. Dale watched him, and began to feel the bang of the drums reverberating through the wooden floor and hitting his feet as the saxes joined in. Danny threw his arms up in the air, and Dale matched him, both now synched to the beat. The pace picked up, and the sway became a spin and step, with both of them spinning around and putting a confident right foot forward, then spinning back to the left.
       They snapped their fingers to the rhythm, shifting just their feet now along with the beat. Then they stretched their arms out and started pumping their fists in alternate rhythm. Pointing to the floor, they accented it with a series of big, big jumping stomps as the base drum did a whompwhompwhompwhompwhompwhompwhomp...WHOMP!
       Cat and munk were laughing now, cavorting and doing whatever came to them as the music was at a fever pitch. It reached a crescendo of trumpets and trombones, and Dale and Danny were running in place, side by side, then slid to the floor on their knees, going down fast in a worship-like motion on the last beat of the drum and cymbals.
       Sawyer clapped approvingly, and the two glory hounds jumped up and bowed to their audience. “See? What’d I tell you? Great fun, isn’t it?” Danny asked. Dale caught his breath. “Yeah, it was! Wow, that was fun! But how do you get that across to someone sitting in a movie theater? Dance is kind of old-timey.”
       “Well, no one said that it couldn’t be new again!” Danny said, all pumped up. “All it takes is the right touch. You just wait—this musical, you’re going to like.” Dale thought about it. “I guess you’re right. Disco’s coming back, and if that can come back, anything can.”
       Danny grinned—he could see that this convert wasn’t going to be an easy one. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, friend. Say, you two’d better get back over to Luniversal and the other studios while you can.”
       “How’s the new script coming?” Sawyer asked. Danny settled down on the floor, cross-legged. “With the help of our friend here, I think it just got the extra spark of inspiration that’s going to make it a real winner! Of course, I’ll have to make a couple of changes, but I think it’ll really pay off in the end! Leo, you around?”
       Leo came quickly and escorted Sawyer and Dale to the door. Danny followed in a few moments, but his body language showed that he was eager to be writing now. “I’d better get back to it while it’s all fresh in my mind. Thanks for visiting!”

       Back at Mammoth, Chip and Gadget had already conducted several interviews of staff that were involved in Danny’s production and now they were headed for Lot C and the actual filming site
       “Golly Chip,” Gadget said, “I’ve often wondered what it would be like to visit a movie set! The amount of technical knowledge required to make a movie is just amazing.” Chip reveled in having this time alone with the mouse inventor. In a tight-knit group like the Rescue Rangers, such moments were rare indeed. He grinned as she gawked at the Hollywood technowizardry around them, chuckling inwardly at her “kid in a candy store” reaction.
       “You bet it is. And you’d make a great leading lady, Gadget.”
       Gadget chuckled. “Oh, that’s silly, Chip! Who would want to watch me? I think you’d make a good leading man, though. With that hat and jacket, you remind me of someone, but I just can’t put my finger on it.”
       Chip was about to follow up on that, but then he saw a sign for Danny’s movie outside one of the sound stages they were approaching and remembered they had a job to do. He led the way as the two Rangers entered Stage 17 and found a menagerie of crew, actors and stagehands buzzing about the stage like bees in a beehive.
       The banging of hammers mixed with amplified voices of the sound crew doing mike checks, making it a challenge to even concentrate at first. Gadget tugged on Chip’s jacket and pointed to a trailer where a sign indicated costuming was going on. Chip nodded and they went in to find a bunch of animals getting fitted for traditional college wear and/or football gear.
       A gruff-looking old goat in a coach’s outfit eyed them menacingly. “What’re you two doing in here? There’s no mice or chipmunks on the roster. Get lost!” Gadget held up her hands apologetically. “Sorry, we’re trying to help here. Danny brought us in to—”
       Chip covered her mouth. “What she means is, Danny brought us in to make sure everything’s going smoothly and that no one sneaks onto the set and tries anything.” He smiled, then led Gadget over to a corner. “Remember, no one but the studio brass knows the real reason why we’re here,” Chip whispered. “We have to keep this under wraps.”
       Cranston marched over, coming eye to eye with Chip—okay, Cranston was leaning over. “You! What was he thinking?” Chip took it in stride. “He was thinking smart! We’re the Rescue Rangers.”
       “Never heard of you,” Cranston said dismissingly. “Why don’t you go rescue some rangers, and butt out of our business?” Before Chip could retort, a big female hippo in an oversize cheerleading outfit saved him the trouble. “Cranston!” Tillie said. “That’s no way to treat someone trying to help us!”
       “It is where I come from...” Cranston grumbled.
       Tillie thumped him, knocking him into the trailer wall, and creating a nice impression of his head in it. She focused her attention on the two rodents at her feet. “Sorry about that, but he is a cranky old goat after all. My name’s Tillie, that was Cranston....” She took a deep breath. “TheothersarePeebo,T.W.,Woolie,Frances,staff,
dressingcrewandthat’saboutit! Oh, what’s your names?”

       Chip was left in a tizzy, but Gadget was used to fast talkers having lived with chipmunks so long, not to mention her own tendency to babble. “Hi, I’m Gadget Hackwrench! We’ll do everything we can to keep anyone from messing with your movie. It’s important to animals everywhere that this gets made.”
       “And I’m Chip,” the fedora-clad munk said, once his head stopped spinning. “Yeah, we’ll keep anyone from messing with things.” A short little penguin—still twice the Rangers’ size—waddled over in some football shoulder pads. They were far too large for him, and the penguin had to just about stand on tiptoes to keep the lower edges of them from dragging the floor. “Hi, I’m Peebo Pudgemeyer, but call me Pudge. Do you think someone’s going to try to sabotage the movie?”
       “Well, we hope not,” Chip said. “We’re going over every possibility for security’s sake, though. We solve crimes for a living.” Peebo was impressed. “You do? Wow! That sounds neat.”
       A rather nervous—okay, a very nervous turtle followed Pudge over to them, doffing his bowler hat. “I hope nothing happens,” T.W. said. “Yesterday, I forgot to jump the 13th step up to my home! Disaster could be around the corner!”
       “Oh, that’s silly!” Gadget said. “There’s no such thing as luck. Do any of you have any ideas on how anyone might try to sabotage the film?” An old female fish slid a glance over toward Cranston, who had managed to divest himself from the trailer wall. “Knowing old Billy goat here, he could eat it like spaghetti,” Frances said.
       “Fiddlesticks!” Cranston retorted. “I’d keep an eye on some of the wage slaves around here. They’re griping about their onionskin paychecks again! Kick ‘em all out, I say!”
       “I hope there aren’t any black cats around...” T.W. said, shaking at the thought.
       Tillie shrugged. “Most people in this town love Danny—well, as long as L.B. loves him, anyway.” Chip nodded, continuing his questioning. “Has anyone been particularly against the making of this picture?”
       “No, not really,” Pudge said. “A musical is kinda unique and all these days, but Danny came up with answers for everyone’s questions.” Tillie nodded, grinning. “He silenced the critics all right! Convinced ‘em that we’re overdue for a revival of the modern musical in the motion pictures. But uh...” Tillie leaned down, whispering. “It’s been spread around that L.B.’s hedging his bet. He’s supposed to have some kind of escape policy in case the movie flops.”
       Chip filed that tidbit away. “Probably he’ll let Danny take the fall if it doesn’t work out.”
       Gadget meanwhile was looking around at all the costumes. “I think it’s a good idea to make a musical. It would be a nice change from all the violence and stuff that’s on TV.” Cranston raised an annoyed eyebrow at Gadget’s comment, but she just smiled sunnily at him. The goat shook his head and walked off.
       Pudge edged up next to Gadget, now free of his shoulder pads. “I think the movie’ll be good too. I’m going to be the center on the football team!” Gadget tried to imagine the little penguin holding back anyone. “Golly, is that safe?” Pudge grabbed a drinking straw and bent it. “Oh sure. I may be little, but I’m strong!” Then Pudge emphasized his statement further by picking up Chip with one flipper and setting him back down. Gadget giggled at the penguin’s antics, and it was time to continue their investigation.

       As Dale and Sawyer left Danny’s house and entered the limo, Dale looked up at his feline companion. “Uh, what was that all about with Danny? I’ve never seen anyone who just goes off dancing like that.” Sawyer grinned back. “It’d take too long to explain. Danny has those bursts of inspiration like that sometime. Stevens, we’re going to Luniversal now.”
       The Himalayan nodded, tipping his chauffeur’s cap, and drove out of the driveway. Luniversal was a splash of primary colors and eye-catching characters, which naturally appealed to Dale. When they passed the Luniversal set for “T-Rex World”, Sawyer asked Stevens to stop.
       “Very good, Miss Sawyer,” Stevens said, coming around and helping Sawyer out of the car. Immediately, she was beset upon by several autograph hounds who were touring Luniversal. She was glad to oblige, then she along with Dale headed for the “T-Rex” set.
       “I’ve got a few old friends over here I’m going to do some casual talking with,” Sawyer explained. “You go ahead and watch the filming. Looks like they’re about to shoot a scene.” Dale was already distracted by all the high-tech gadgetry the set provided. “Okay, I’ll just stay here and keep out of the way.”
       After she had walked away, Dale watched the filming as best he could. From where he was he wasn’t able to see much. “I guess it couldn’t hurt to get a little closer to the action.” Dale began working his way deeper into the set, then stumbled over a wire, causing it to come free from a metal cylinder that was part of a row of about twenty.
       Dale gasped, not sure what the canister would do. “Gosh, someone could get hurt with all this stuff laying around! I’d better put this back in.” Dale quickly reconnected the wire, but the moment he did, he was thrown to the ground by a deafening explosion. The tubes each launched the special effect they had been placed there for, fire and sparks shooting up from all over and soon every special effect on the set was going off all at once. People and animals were scrambling wildly in panic, screaming.

       After a few moments, the red-nosed chipmunk dared to poke his proboscis out from hiding, along with the rest of his face. “Uh, I hope Chip doesn’t find out about this.” Dale ran for cover, hoping no one had seen him. No such luck—he ran right into Sawyer, with the film’s director right next to her. “Dale!” Sawyer shouted. “I leave you alone for five minutes did you manage all that?”
       Dale looked behind him to see that the set was now in ruins. People were coming out from hiding and a fire crew had just arrived. “Oh, I dunno. Just comes natural, I guess.” Sawyer turned to the director, a sheep who was eyeing Dale. “I’m sorry, Mr. Springberg. It won’t happen again.”
       “Are you kidding?” the director said, throwing up his hands. “That was great!” Both Dale and Sawyer did a double-take and Springberg continued. “It was just the feel of surprised terror that the scene needed! Of course, we’ll have to edit your friend out of the final take, Sawyer. Dale, was it? How’d you like to be a triceratops?”
       Dale’s eyes bulged out in pleased surprise. “Can I Sawyer? Huh, can I, can I?” Sawyer grabbed Dale’s arm. “Not today, Dale. You’ll have to handle that end in digital postproduction, Mr. Springberg.”
       “Okay, that’ll work,” Springberg said. “Nice meeting you again, uh, Dake—too bad you’re not bigger. I could use someone with that kind of talent for destruction!”

       Dale begged once more, but Sawyer was adamant. As they headed for the car, Sawyer filled him on what she’d learned. “I traded a little dirt with the director, and found out that they’re curious about Danny’s film and how it’ll turn out but nothing more. Oh, they did mention that the studio big-wigs were interested in courting L.B. to come to Luniversal, but that’s pretty much industry policy.”
       “I’m sorry I messed up, Miss Sawyer,” Dale apologized. “I just have a habit of things like that happening when I’m around. I’m just so excited to be here in town! That’s probably why we’ve never come here before, because they knew I’d go…”
       “Oh, don’t worry about it,” Sawyer said. “You’re just about the same way Danny was when he got here from Kokomo.” Sawyer smiled, thinking back on that time as they got in the limo again then exited shortly once they reached an empty sound stage.
       Sawyer showed her diminutive friend around. “This Luniversal stage was where I first tried to get into Hollywood. Ended up being a stage hand, but it was better than nothing. But getting back to what I said about Danny, he was so fired up, so determined to succeed. I didn’t think he had a chance at first—I’d seen so many animals have their dreams squashed, including mine. But Danny wouldn’t give up, and ultimately he resurrected all our dreams! Now, he’s putting it all on the line again, and unless we come through it could all be over...”
       Sawyer got a far-away look in her eyes, and in her mind she could hear some soft jazz playing in the background, slowly. She began to sing, that silky-smooth voice she was so admired for filling the huge room:

       It’s alllll or nothing
       One shots are…all he knows
       His dreams, they grow and grow
       Big as liiiiiife
       All the years
       All the tears
       And now, it’s all on the line
       Win or lose
       I’ll be there
       ‘Cause his dreams are mine...
       We’ve got to give it our all
       This time, it’s alllll or nothing...
       And-nothing-less-than-all…will doooooo....

       Sawyer continued to stare off into the distance a few moments more, than looked down at Dale, smiling wistfully. Dale stared back, amazed. “Zowie, people really do burst into song!” Sawyer nodded, then finished her reprise.

       It’s allllll or nothing,
       And it’s got to be all

       From behind, a crowd that had gathered burst into applause, breaking both cat and chipmunk out of the melodic moment. They nodded and waved in kind, then headed back for the car to continue their search at Paramoot and MouseWorks.

       Leaving the trailer, Chip and Gadget talked to the stage and technical crews on Stage 17, the latter taking up most of the day as Gadget talked on with them in a running conversation of technobabble. When they left the stage, she was positively giddy. “Gosh! I think if I weren’t a Rescue Ranger, I’d love to be a Hollywood movie technician. Just think—with a mix of pyrotechnics, digital overlays, proper costuming and set design you could literally do anything! I wonder if their director’s chairs have built-in ejection seats...”
       Chip was only half-listening as his pretty counterpart spluttered on about the electronic and mechanical marvels she’d seen. What Tillie had told them about L.B. stuck in his mind. Of course it could be rumor, but what if it wasn’t? It warranted a closer look at the files and at L.B.’s financial transactions. It could be tricky, but if he was the one behind all this it was imperative to know it now rather than later.
       He just had to find…then another thought suddenly thrust itself into his mind and he stopped. Gadget realized after a few moments Chip wasn’t keeping up and looked back. “What is it, Chip?” The chipmunk detective was staring off into space, thinking. “Nothing…nothing really. I just had a thought.”

       At the same time Chip and Gadget had first entered the costume trailer, Monty and Zipper had tracked down the home of Darla Dimple, former child star. They found she wasn’t home, but her butler gave them two tickets to the afternoon taping of the talk show she now hosted. For several years, Darla had been blacklisted in Hollywood, so she’d turned to the lecture circuit and finally television. Now, “Darla!” was a nationally-syndicated program that catered to the low-brow crowd and the problems that many of Hollywood’s more famous citizens faced.
       Monty and Zipper found they had front-row seats, and when the saw the set’s décor they wished they hadn’t—it was all pink with a mockup of Darla’s dimpled face smiling on the rear wall of the set and “Darla!” written beneath that in fancy cursive. The interviewer’s desk and the chairs included impressionistic mock-ups of Darla’s curly hairdo on top. Monty was about to get up and wait until after the show was over when Darla came out and the applause signs went up.
       The crowd was raucous and rowdy—just the way Monty liked it—and that helped the Aussie to change his mind. “Thank you, thank you!” Darla said, blowing kisses. “You’re all too much. On today’s show, we’re going to talk about phobias, and my guest star today is a guy that can attest to it. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a big Darla welcome to Professor Norton Nimnul!”
       The crowd alternately booed or whistled, according to cues. Monty and Zipper were shocked that their old mad scientist enemy was here, and it was certain not to be long before the unbalanced professor reciprocated that sentiment. Darla showed the short balding bespectacled scientist, wearing his white lab coat, to the guest chair. She walked up a small pink spiral staircase that led to her big comfy host’s chair behind the spacious pink desk.
       Darla put her pudgy elbows on the desk, taking on a look of mock sympathy. “Now Professor, you tell Darla alllll about what happened to you...” Nimnul leaped out of his seat and began gesturing wildly around the set. “It’s all about a bunch of insidious rodents named the Rescue Rangers! They interfere with my work all the time! How can I get any devastation done if they’re always breaking my brilliant inventions! I even got my head switched onto the body of that icky fly of theirs once! Stupid rodents, I hate them all!”
       “Oh, you do?” Darla asked, taking on an innocent tone. “Well then, I don’t think you’re really going to like the next guest we have.”
       “And who would that be, as if I cared?” Nimnul asked. Darla grinned mischievously and pressed a button on her desk, causing a hole to open in the floor. Out of that hole, using the old Bugs Bunny elevator trick, came Slappy Squirrel. A caption on the bottom of the screen showed “Slappy Squirrel: Rodent”.

       “Hey, what gives!” Nimnul said, then gasped. “A big disgusting rodent!”
       “Eh, stuff a sock in it, Einstein,” Slappy said, stopping to cough a bit. “I’m getting triple scale for puttin’ up with you for five minutes, though if I can find some dynamite we might be down to three.” Slappy walked over to the irate professor. “You know, you remind me of a young…actually, I can’t think of anyone you remind me of. What loony bin did you escape from, anyway?”
       “I am not a loony!” Nimnul shouted, accenting this point by jumping up and down a lot. “I’m simply here to voice the opinion of all mad scientists everywhere about no-good rats and bugs interfering with their legitimate evil schemes!”
       “I’ll say you’re buggy,” Slappy said.
       Monty became indignant at being called a rat and leaped to his feet, rolling up his sleeves and running out on stage. “The Rangers ain’t rats! We’re mice and chipmunks!” Zipper was right there too, of course. “And don’t forget the fly!”
       Nimnul froze in shock when he saw Monty and worse...Zipper. “AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! THE VERMIN!”

       Nimnul began running around like a chicken with its head cut off, much to the pleasure of Darla and the producers. The audience was beside itself with laughter. Slappy waited for the right moment, then brought out a huge mallet and conked the hysterical human on the noggin. “Now that’s comedy!” she said, taking a bow to the applauding audience.
       Monty took advantage of the moment to confront Darla, jumping up on her desk. “Hey, you! I hear you ain’t got any love for Danny, after what the bloke did to ya. Bet you’re egging to get back at him, ain’t ya?” Darla had been enjoying the professor’s antics, but now the Aussie mouse had hit her sore spot. She began having a conniption right then and there. “HE RUINED MY LIFE! Of course I want back at him, and someday I’ll figure out a way to get him back, too!”
       Darla sneered as the guards hauled Nimnul off, then returned her attention to Monty. “Are you DONE now?”
       “Only gotta point out that you did the ruining, lass. If you’d played it straight, you wouldn’t be here on this fourth-rate show. Lots of things are better in life than fame and fortune, ya know.”
       Darla took on a smug look. “Oh? Name one!”
       At that moment, somewhere off-stage, some poor soul made the mistake of getting a tray of snacks ready. What was on that tray caused Monty’s moustache to tingle. “I’ll gave ya one! Chee-yee-eee-eee-eezzzeeeee!”
       Monty was caught in a cheese attack, and ran right though Darla’s interview desk, causing it to collapse—not to mention Darla. “YAAAAH! Where’s Max when I need him!” Slappy had long since decided to stand aside and watch the mayhem. “You know, this reminds me of my first day on set with Weed Memlo. Of course, it was the last day, too.”

       The audience was whooping it up over all this action, and the stagehands were trying their best to stop Monty. If they’d known him, they would’ve known better. The motivated mouse headed straight for the cheese tray, gobbling up its delicacies in seconds. The attack ended, and Monty relaxed. “Aaaaah...nothing like a bunch of sharp cheddar ta mark a grand adventure...”
       Zipper hovered over him, shaking his head. “Monty, I can see why we leave the detective work to Chip.” Zipper flew over, landing by Monty. He couldn’t talk well, but his disapproving look spoke volumes. Monty ducked his head. “Aw, now don’t be that way, Zip ol’ pal! Besides, we got what we came after. If the lass had the goods, she’d be trying ta cover things up, but instead she blurts out on national TV that she wants back at him. Unless she’s just a Grade-A fool, she didn’t do it.”
       “Well, I suppose that makes sense. Okay, what’s the next step?” Zipper didn’t have long to wait for that one. Darla emerged from the rubble of her desk, beyond irate. “I HATE ANIMALS! Get them out. OUT! OUT!” Monty looked around for the exit. “That lass has got some loose change upstairs, mate! I think that’s our cue to go walkabout!”
       “Or runabout...” Zipper said. The two Rangers made flank speed for the exit, Darla ranting and raving in the middle of her trashed stage.

Chapter 3 – A Dream of a Story

       Across town, the atmosphere was a lot more peaceful. Possibly too peaceful, as Danny was beginning to tire once again. He’d been working on his new script all day, without taking a break. In the middle of the first act, the cat stopped, trying to talk himself through what he’d previously written while adding in new material.
       Danny sat up in his swivel chair and picked up the small pile of typed pages sitting next to him, looking them over while leaning back in his chair. “Okay, so far so good. Act 1, Scene 1, the train pulls up to the train station and a beautiful woman steps off the train. She’s got all her worldly goods in the suitcase she’s carrying. Her mind is filled with dreams of the future as she enters this new town, a stranger in a strange land...”
       Danny looked over the words, trying to remember if he’d included all the good ideas he’d come up with. As he read, he found it increasingly harder to concentrate. His reading slowed more and more until it was just a mumble, and then his eyes closed. In a few moments, he opened them again to find himself looking up into a blue autumn sky. Then he looked down to find he was dressed in a football uniform.
       “Hey what gives?” Danny said.
       A clock tower in the distance struck two, taking his attention off of himself, and he realized he was on a small college campus. Animals of all kinds, dressed like students out of the fifties, were walking, talking and cavorting all around him. Danny was right in the middle of campus, next to an old railroad station. As he watched, he heard the whistle of a train coming in the distance.
       Danny headed for the station, grinning. This was the opening scene of his movie. The train drew near, slowing as it approached the old brick station in the small southern college town of Tuberville. The train’s brakes set in and, with a loud hiss, the train came to a halt. This was the freshman train that brought new students to begin their postsecondary careers.
       Among them was a white female cat named Desiree Summers who had come down south from Chicago. She was a Chi-Town native who had enjoyed the life of a street cat, growing up amid the iron and steel monoliths. Now she wanted to try her wings, and she’d decided to see what another part of the world was like.

       Desiree stopped at the top step of the train—she was dressed conservatively, wearing a white blouse under her dark blue sweater that had the orange Tubervillle Tech “T” stitched on the right front along with a cream-colored skirt. “Boy, this is sure a cow college...” A cow next to her on the train steps, dressed in a similar college sweater to hers, tapped her on the shoulder. “You got a problem with that?”
       “Oh no, just an observation.”
       Desiree looked around. To the horizon in every direction there were fields as far as the eye could see. This was farm country, and small Tuberville Tech only took up about half of the area she could take in. The big brick buildings and landscaping were nice, though, with the blooming magnolia trees and beds of marigold and lilies. It was all foreign to her, and she didn’t know what to do next. She saw a uniformed porter and hailed him as she walked off the train onto the station’s wooden platform. “Hello! Can I get some help with my baggage?”
       The porter started to walk over, stopping halfway and pointing at her. “Wow, look who’s here!” Desiree smiled. “Well, that’s nice of you to—” The porter zoomed right by her, going up the train steps and pulling out a red carpet, which he rolled down the steps and onto the platform. “It’s the pride of Heartland High!”
       Everyone within shouting distance immediately ran for the train station. An old goat, dressed in a coach’s uniform, took center stage on a makeshift podium. The crowd cheered wildly. “Settle down, or you’ll all run ten laps around the school!” All was quiet and the coach continued, Desiree watching all this to the left and behind the big crowd. “I have the pleasure to introduce to you our new freshman quarterback sensation and number one signee, Stan Kowalski!”
       Cheerleaders lined the exit from the train, shaking their pom-poms. “Stan! Stan! Stan!”
       Stan appeared, in the Tuberville Tech uniform. The band ran up and played, “Hail to the Chief” as the student body kow-towed to him. Stan smiled, flashbulbs popped everywhere, and he came down the steps and up the podium to the mike. “ Now, now, hold your applause! I’m just glad to be here, and help ol’ Coach Vince to win ‘em all!”

       The crowd went wild, and porters ran up from everywhere to take all of Stan’s luggage. Desiree crossed her arms, disgusted with the whole thing. She sighed, then tried to decide what to do next. Meanwhile, one of the cheerleaders, a cute blonde-haired bunny named Blanche, sauntered up to Stan.
       “Hi there, big boy,” Blanche said, confident. “I’m Blanche Dubois, head cheerleader. Guess what? You get to escort me to the pep rally for the new team’s arrival!” Blanche made the biggest show of taking Stan’s arm, but Stan’s attention was already elsewhere.
       “Sure, Blanche. Anytime.” And with that, Stan walked off, catching up with Desiree. “Hi there! New student?”
       Desiree looked at him, unimpressed. “Who are you and why are you so nosey, bub?” Everyone around Desiree stopped and looked at her, to see if she was serious. One of the cheerleaders, a large hippo named Gertie, walked over. “Why, don’t you know? He’s Stan Kowalski, the new quarterback for the Tuberville Tech Tigers! He only threw for five thousand yards and fifty touchdowns last year!”
       “Uh, actually it was fifty-two…” Stan corrected. Several girls in cheerleading outfits gathered around the new quarterback. “Stan! Stan! He’s our man! If he can’t do it, no one can! Yaaaaaay!” Stan smirked at Desiree. “That answer your question?” Desiree shrugged. “So, looks like there’s not much to do around here. What do you guys do for fun?”
       Stan grinned from ear to ear. “It’s funny you should ask…” From somewhere some peppy marching band music started up.

       You don’t have to look real hard
       To find out what we like!
       Just listen close and give a toast
       While I stand up to the mike!

       The marching band appeared, and the students gathered around, cheering, as Stan grabbed the mike from the podium.

       It’s foot-ball, that game we love to play!
       The cheering fans, the daring plans,
       A touchdown on the way!
       It’s foot-ball, the rivalries are best!
       A stadium all full of folks
       Who come from east and west!
       It’s foot-ball, it’s foot-ball!
       That…game…that we looooove!

       Stan led the way through campus, picking up his feet, the band marching right behind. Desiree kept up as best as she could, then she stopped when she saw the huge brick and concrete football stadium. It was by far the largest thing on campus, and everyone was heading into it. Desiree walked in, where Stan was running a few plays with the team. Players were bashing each other and the crowd was eating it up. Then Stan came over to the sidelines and led a huge student pep rally. He saw Desiree and pulled her over, continuing his reverie.

       When we play a home game
       It’s excitement all the way!
       Ev-’ry-one will stand and scream
       Until the fin-al play!
       A win will mean a happy year
       A loss would be a crime!
       It’s foot-ball, the best sport

       The band wrapped it up, and the pep rally ended. Stan walked Desiree out to the middle of the field, showing her the great expanse that was Tuberville Tech Stadium. “So, what do you think? Pretty neat, huh?”
       Desiree looked at it all. “I hate sports.”
       The buzz of activity stopped, and the students who were filing out halted and stared. Stan for his part was shocked, his mouth open. “ hate sports?” Desiree gestured at the field around them. “Sports is just a bunch of big sweaty guys hurting each other. If you people put half the effort into classwork that you put into sports, imagine what you could accomplish!”
       “Bu..bu..but, but...”
       The coach, an old goat by the name of Pat Vince, marched out on the field. “Get off my field! Go on, before you ruin the turf!” The two of them walked off, and Stan caught Desiree’s hand. “Um, y’know, I’d really like to see you again. How about coming to the big game on Saturday? Everyone’s going to be there...”
       “Almost everyone, hon,” Desiree said, taking her hand back. “They’re going to have tryouts at the theater department on Saturday for ‘My Fair Lady’.” Now it was Stan’s turn to look displeased. “Acting? Singing and dancing? That’s sissy stuff!” Desiree stopped and faced him. “I bet you’ve never been to a show, have you?”
       “Nope, and I don’t plan to,” Stan said. “You don’t see anyone getting sacked on stage, you know. Pulse-pounding action’s what’s popular now! Give me a good post pattern for a wide-open touchdown and we’re talking excitement.” Desiree shook her head. “If you tried it, you’d like it. Now, could someone please show me where the admissions office is?” Stan sighed, pulling out a campus map someone had given him. “It’s straight across campus. C’mon, I’ll walk you.”

       Meanwhile, in the background, Blanche had been lurking and working up to a slow boil. From behind, one of the big football players tapped her on the shoulder. It was Bruiser McGee, a wolf who was one of the Tuberville Tech linebackers. “Popularity problems, Blanche?” Bruiser asked, his deep grating voice reverberating.
       “Who does that kitty think she is!” Blanche said, her eyes pure poison. “No one upstages Blanche DuBois! And that quarterback! How dare he embarrass me in public!” Bruiser grinned with a touch of mischief. “So you want back at the big guy, huh? Well, it just so happens I’ve been given a lucrative offer to gain a few semolians, and I think we can both be happy.”
       “How’s that?” Blanche asked.
       “Well, the Pine City and Pricetown teams need to win when they come here, and let’s say they’ll think highly of anyone who lends them a helping hand.”
       Blanche thought about it. “So we tip them off, and let them run that little disrespectful quarterback over?” Bruiser nodded, chuckling. “You got it, sweets. They’ll mow him under like a tractor hitting the weeds.” Blanche broke out in an evil grin. “And I’ll come up with something to get the better of that feline floozy!” The two of them laughed, rubbing their hands with glee.

       For the next few weeks, Desiree got used to her surroundings. She landed the role of Eliza Doolittle and played to mostly-empty seats at the theater. Meanwhile, the football stadium was jam-packed every weekend, and Stan led the team to win after win. The college town was small and friendly, though, and soon Desiree had made a lot of new friends. She was just coming out of world geography class when she noticed Stan coming out too and decided to see what he was up to.
       “So Stan, what else besides football is there to do in this town? Shuck corn, spin cotton, churn butter?” Desiree quipped. Stan spun a football on his index finger. “Most of us just hang around at the E-Z-Scoop and eat ice cream while discussing the next big game.”
       Stan noticed the big notebook under her arm. “Hey, what’s that for?”
       “It’s for schoolwork,” Desiree said. “You should try it sometime. Seriously, I’m majoring in theater with a minor in economics. What are you here for, as if I couldn’t guess.”
       Stan waived off her concern. “Oh, you don’t need to go to all that trouble! Spending all that time grinding away at books? Besides, it’s all common knowledge. Once you know that America broke away from France to become a country and Tokyo’s the capital of China, you got it made!”
       “On second thought, you’d better stick with football. Is there a movie theater in this one horse town?”
       Her comment evoked an indignant snort from a horse standing behind her. “Sorry,” Desiree said.
       “Sure is!” Stan said. “The Tiger Cinema’s open every night. Would you, uh, like to step out with me tonight?” Desiree knew she’d probably regret it. “Will you stop annoying me with silly questions if I agree?”
       “Uh, okay! So will you?”
       “Sure,” Desiree said, looking heavenward. “It’ll be the only taste of civilization I’ll have for the next few years. I’ll warn you not to try and get fresh with me, though. I carry a set of brass knuckles in my purse.” Stan smiled, impressed. “Wow, really? I never knew a girl who owned brass knuckles before. Say, you’re pretty cool. Well, gotta go! See you after football practice!”

       Desiree shook her head, watching Stan romp his way across campus. When seven rolled around, she was in front of the theater and he wasn’t. Desiree waited ten more minutes, then was about to leave for the library when Stan came running up to her, out of breath. He was on the mild side of desperate. “Look uh…sorry I’m late. It’s just that…coach held me…over for a talk after...practice.”
       Stan looked embarrassed, and Desiree could sense something was up. “What happened? Did he think your uniform was too cute?” Stan didn’t catch her sarcasm but he did catch his breath. “No, he said I had to pass all my classes or I’d be kicked off the team! Can you believe that? I didn’t know they could do that to you!”
       “I’m sure that the idea of football quarterbacks being held to the same educational standards as the rest of us must come as a shock. What class are you failing?”
       Stan tugged at his collar. “Um, all of them?”
       “All of them! How could you have let that, don’t bother answering,” Desiree said, holding up her hands. “I already know the answer. How much time do you have to turn your grades around?”
       “I have the pass the midterm exams on Friday, or I’m busted! Do you know anything about Geometry, History, English Lit, and World Geography?” Desiree looked at that cute desperate face and sighed. “Well, two hours won’t make or break the situation. You promised me a movie, and tomorrow I can start doing some emergency tutoring, but no football till exam time. You’ll need to focus on your schoolwork.”
       Stan blinked, reality hitting him like a blindside from a crazed linebacker. “No FOOTBALL? I’ll die from withdrawals!”
       “You’ll die if you get kicked off the team, but the choice is yours, Stan.”
       Stan’s shoulders slumped. “Oh, okay...”

       Desiree enjoyed the movie, but Stan hardly noticed it. He was trying to fight off sheer panic, and the next day wasn’t much better. Desiree found that Stan knew little or nothing about studying, but fortunately she was taking the same classes he was and let him borrow her notes. She dragged him to the study hall, and there she worked with him hour after hour, helping him to learn all the things he’d ignored in his sheer enjoyment of the game.
       “Stan, you’ve got to pay attention or you’ve never going to make it!” Desiree said. Stan stared at the stack of papers in front of him. “But how can I remember it all? It’s just a jumble of things…” Desiree thought a moment, then came up with an idea. “Okay, there’s more than one way to remember things. For instance…” Desiree thought a moment, then sang to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel”:

       A circle’s round, it never ends,
       The way around’s the cir-cum-f’rence
       A radius is half-way and then
       All’s the di-am-et-er!

       “Hey, neat!” Stan said. Desiree pointed to another paper, singing to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”:

       The Pilgrims came to Ply-mouth Rock,
       The state of Mass-a-chu-setts
       The Con-stit-tu-tion set up laws with
       Twenty-seven amend-ments

       “Wow, that’s great!” Stan said. “Do another one!” Desiree did, to the “Anvil Chorus”:
       Chau-cer in the days of old wrote tales both sad and mer-ry,
       Told by pil-grims on a trip to go to Can-ter-bu-ry

       “Hey, you’re great!” Stan said. “Got another one for geography?” Yakko Warner ran up. “I do! United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama…” Desiree pushed Yakko out the door, then took up the melody of “Under the Boardwalk”:

       Pacific Ocean’s got the biggest space of all the fi-iiiive
       The Indian’s got the Cape to Tasmania spied
       Under the world lies the Southern’s reeeeach, yeah!
       On the top with the Arctic’s where I’ll be…

       When Friday came, Desiree was a little shell-shocked from all the time she’d spent helping Stan review, but it also meant that she easily passed her exams. She was anxious about her pupil, though. She’d been waiting for him outside the geography class while he and the football coach waited for the teacher to grade the last of Stan’s tests. When Stan came out, he was beaming and ran up to Desiree.
       “Hey, I passed everything!” Stan shouted, picking her up and spinning her around. “Now I get to play tomorrow! Thanks, Des, I owe you.” Desiree grinned. “Yes, you sure do. And it so happens I need a favor.” Stan stopped, not sure what was coming next. “Yeah?”
       “We’re about to start casting for ‘Guys and Dolls’ and we need somebody to play Nathan Detroit, the lead,” Desiree said. Stan blinked, not sure he’d heard her right. “Uh, you…want me to…act?” Desiree smiled wickedly, nodding. “Tryouts are next Monday, hon. I’ll expect to see you there.”
       Desiree started walking off, when Stan ran up beside her, holding out a ticket. “Won’t you at least come to the game this week? I’ve…we’ve won every game so far and we’re playing the Pine City Bulldogs. Here’s a free ticket, best seats in the house! Please?” Desiree was about to remind him of his promise to stop annoying her, but bit her tongue. “Uh, thanks Stan. I might go, to see if my hard work was worth it.” Stan pumped her arm up and down in a vigorous handshake. “Hey, that’s swell! See you after the game for the big victory celebration, okay?”
       “Sure, I guess. Whatever.”

       Stan walked off, happy as a lark. Desiree watched him go, then looked at the ticket in her hand. Should she? After all, this fellow was just an egotistical sports boy and they had nothing in common. When the time came, though, she found herself headed for the stadium. It was a rowdy, noisy place with more people at one event than she had ever seen. When she found her seat, she sat down next to a loudmouth human, and commented on the rowdy state of affairs.
       “Yeah, great atmosphere, ain’t it?” the burly human said. The big fellow stood up and turned around, yelling toward the concession stands. “HEY, WIL-MA! DON’T FORGET THE NACHOS!”
       Desiree rolled her eyes and sat down. After a lot of bands playing and cheerleaders jumping around, the game started. She saw Stan on the field, but had no idea of what was going on. However, she did notice the cheerleaders, and Blanche in particular. She was waving at the opposite sidelines repeatedly for some reason, and every time she did the Tuberville team lost yards. She winced one time when a bunch of linebackers led by Magilla Gorilla came up the middle and crunched Stan to the ground. The game didn’t go well for the home team, and Tuberville Tech lost to Pine City 21-7. Desiree watched as a dejected bunch of players left the field, Stan leading the way.
       Behind the stands, Blanche and Bruiser were laughing. “That was great!” Blanche said. “This’ll teach him who’s the best.” Bruiser nodded. “You got that right, Blanche. But the best lesson’ll come next week. Nothing like getting humbled by your biggest rival.” The devious duo walked away, counting their payoff, while Desiree waited outside the locker room for Stan to come out.

       Desiree knew Stan would need a talking-to, so she waited until he’d changed his clothes and left the locker room. He had a nice shiner on his right eye and a bag of ice wrapped on his shoulder. Stan was surprised to see her and he blushed in embarrassment and shame when he remembered his promise to take her to the victory celebration. “Oh, hi Des. Guess I can’t take you to the celebration after all. I’m sorry I let you down. Our first loss!”
       Desiree managed to hide her relief at not having to go, not wanting to upset Stan any further. “Don’t worry about it, there’ll be other games. You win some, you lose some. How about I take you to the feeling-sorry-for-yourself celebration at that Scoops place you mentioned?”
       Stan shook his head, holding it down. “No, I couldn’t go there. I let everyone down, not just you! Don’t you understand, Des? A loss around here is like, well it’s like losing your best friend and your girl all in one day! Right now, I feel flatter than a five-cent sandwich.” Stan walked over to a nearby bench and plopped down, covering his face with his hands.
       “What in the world are you talking about?” Desiree asked. “It’s just a game! The winning or losing of that game won’t affect the balance of power in the free world, won’t lower crime, won’t regrow lost hair! It’s just a silly game! It’ll wear your body out before its time and when that happens your mind won’t be in much better shape, since you neglected it in order to play football. Just get up and try again!”
       Stan looked up, glumly. “You’re embarrassed to be seen with me, too, huh? I don’t blame you. All I’ve ever dreamed of was playing football and winning a big game! Maybe I should just quit.”
       “Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” Desiree said. “And the only thing that’s embarrassing is how you’re acting over losing a single game. It’s not even the World Series, for heaven’s sake!” Desiree came over and sat next to him. She hesitated at first, but it was obvious this boy wasn’t perking up. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Now, are you going to walk me home?”

       Stan hadn’t seen the kiss coming, and when it registered with him he realized that things were different. The sting of the loss wasn’t as bad now, and some of what she was saying made some sense. “Yeah, sure Des. We are still 10-1, after all. I guess I’ll just have to prove my worth next time. We play our big rivals next, the Pricetown Pachyderms. If I can win that game, then they’ll totally forget about this one!”
       Stan walked Desiree home, all the time babbling on about football. She was glad he wasn’t depressed anymore, but he sure could talk a person’s ear off. Stan took her hand at her door. “Thanks, Des. It means a lot to me, all you’ve done. You’re the only person that’s ever done things like this for me, and I just wanted you to know that...well...”

       Soft music came from somewhere:

       All my life’s been one big game.
       Some days I’ve won,
       Some I’ve lost,
       But some things stay the same
       I had fans by the carload
       Girls who called my name,
       But when they’re gone I know
       You won’t care about my fame
       I know it may sound lame,
       But you made my day
       My week, my year
       And now I won’t fear...

       Stan took her other hand.

       As long as you’re near.
       Des, you’re quite a dame...

       Desiree shook her head, chuckling. “You’d better believe it, big shot. Feeling better now?” The two of them came closer, their eyes locked, and Desiree interjected, “By the way, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you at tryouts on Monday.” Stan took a step back. “You mean you were serious about that?”
       “You bet I was,” Desiree said. “We need a strong guy for the lead, and you’ll bring a lot of popularity to the role too. Please, Stan?” Stan hunched over some and rubbed the back of his neck, not really wanting to say yes, but Desiree had him on the spot. “Well, all right. But if anyone I know sees me, I’m going to feel stupid!”
       “No, you won’t. Besides, I’m the female lead, Miss Sarah Brown. Isn’t that worth risking a little embarrassment?”
       Stan gulped. “Uh, I guess so…”
       Desiree kissed him ever so lightly on the lips. “Good. See you Monday.” Stan watched her go as she waved goodbye and then…he heard someone else calling. The images were swept away, and Danny woke up. “Wow, what a dream!” Danny said, immediately starting to type again. “And now I know just how to lead into the big game!”

Chapter 4 – Mission Improbable and Missing in Action

       As Danny got to work again, the setting sun was gleaming on the stone mammoth that marked Mammoth Studios. Cars spilled out of the place, and the night watchmen came on duty. Inside the main offices, it was already getting dark. Chip had to use the portable LED penlight that Gadget had made to help him read the files they were perusing. The comment that Tillie had made before about L.B. was nagging him, but he couldn’t quite figure out why. Now, they were going through the company’s financial files.
       “According to their records, Mammoth’s stock has declined in value twenty percent over the past six months,” Chip said. “I hope Danny’s picture works out or they’re going to be in real trouble. Wait...” Chip checked a list of financial statements, noticing a glaring omission.
       “Gadget, L.B.’s statement isn’t on here! He must’ve kept it private. When we were in his office before, I noticed his personal safe by the wall. That’s got to be where his financial records would be. Only one problem—we can’t be spotted. There’s one of those revolving security cameras near his office. Can you get us around it?”
       Gadget shrugged. “Sure I can, Chip, but isn’t that kinda illegal?”
       “Well, technically. But a good detective knows when to bend the law in a good cause. And if L.B. is the one behind Danny’s missing script, we might just find it there!”
       Gadget started heading for the hall. “Okay, let me at that safe and I should be able to open it with no problems.” Chip started for the file room’s exit, then stopped. Whenever Gadget used the words “should” and “no problems” in the same sentence, it usually meant disaster. Still, that was normally in terms of her inventions, so Chip shook off the notion and walked on.

       The mouse inventor stopped them when they were just out of range of the camera’s line of sight, clocking its motion from left to right. Once she was assured they could make it, they waited for the camera to return and as it headed to the right they followed, careful not to go too fast.
       Chip threw his rope up toward the keyhole, a safety pin on the end catching the hole’s lower edge. Gadget climbed up and was able to simply reach inside the old-fashioned keyhole and trip the lock. She pulled the door’s catch back from the inside, eliminating the need for the doorknob, while Chip pushed as hard as he could. The door came open and quickly they moved inside, shutting the door behind them before the camera could reveal their handiwork.
       As Gadget had figured (and to Chip’s relief) the safe was no huge obstacle. Soon, they had the cabinet-size safe open and Chip was rifling through the papers. After a few minutes, he found what he was after. “Yes, here it is! Apparently, L.B. sold off about half of his stock in the company at the start of this month. So, he must’ve thought the company was in trouble—foolish to keep a record of it, though. And here’s another page attached...ah, he’s also planning on cutting the promotional budget for Danny’s film down to next to nothing! Do you know what that means, Gadget?”
       “Honestly, no,” Gadget said.
       “Without the money for adequate promotion, Danny’s film would likely flounder at the box office!” Chip said, then pointed to the painting of L.B. on the wall. “Gadget, L.B.’s the one behind Danny’s problems! He must be selling off his stock behind the company’s back so he can leave with his pockets full of money! We’ve got to make a copy of this paper.”
       “It’s not going to be easy,” Gadget said. “The copier’s in the outer office.”
       Chip rolled the two sheets of paper up into a cylinder. “I know, but if we don’t have hard evidence, L.B. could find out someone’s been snooping and simply burn this thing. You have been mentally keeping up with the camera’s motions, right?”
       “Uh huh,” Gadget said. “Otherwise, we’d have no way to know when it was safe to leave.” Chip took the papers, unrolled them, and placed them on the floor by the door so it would swing over the papers when it opened. Gadget performed her handiwork on the door’s lock again, opening it at the critical moment. Chip dug his claws into the bottom of the door, pulling as hard as he could. He just managed to get it open enough, then he and Gadget moved to the other side and snatched the papers as they pulled the door closed again.

       Running up the hall to evade the camera, they passed by the file room and another security camera to end up in the main office. There, they had friends waiting for them. Sawyer looked at the papers in their hands. “Well, I see you two have been busy. What’s that you’ve got there?”
       “The answer to the whole mystery of Danny’s missing script,” Chip said. “Looks like L.B.’s the one behind all this. Take a look.” Sawyer read the document and her face took on an angry appearance. “That weasel! And I don’t mean that as a compliment! Wait till I get my claws on him!”
       Dale scratched his head. “I thought L.B. was supposed to be a good guy.”
       “Supposed to is right!” Chip said. “What did you two find out at Luniversal?” Dale shrugged. “Just a rumor that L.B. was thinking of jumping ship to their studio.” Chip snapped his fingers. “Of course! It all fits together. L.B. plans to go to Luniversal, so what’s more natural than that he should try to torpedo Danny’s movie? And he’s probably going to get a big signing bonus from them for doing it, too.”
       “Waitaminit, Chip!” Dale said. “Take a look at this!” Dale held up the photocopy that they’d made of the top page, and it showed writing beneath the printed material. Chip checked and found a thin piece of paper that had been stuck between the two sheets they had taken, and had been clinging to the top page.
       “Hmm…well, it appears I was wrong. It’s written with a felt-tip pen so we can’t analyze the handwriting. Listen: ‘To the Rescue Rangers: You are on the wrong track, and I put you there. If you want to see Danny’s script again, come to the warehouse at Santa Monica Boulevard and 2nd Street. I’ll be waiting.’ It’s signed, ‘The Phantom Moviemaker’.”
       “That’s down by the ocean front,” Sawyer said. “Near Santa Monica Place.”
       “Smells of a trap for sure, mate,” Monty said. “Do we take the bait?”
       “Yes, but this could be a diversion by this person to pull us off the scent and try something here,” Chip replied. “Gadget, take Sawyer and the others to check this out. I’m going to call Danny and get him over here to make sure that no one tries anything.”
       At that moment, Zipper flew in and joined the others. “Where you been, pally?” Monty asked. “You’ve been gone half the day. Out sightseeing?” Zipper shook his head and indicated that he’d been keeping watch over Danny’s house from the air in case anyone tried anything. Chip nodded. “I sent him there, just in case.”
       “Are you sure you can handle this alone?” Sawyer asked. Chip thought about that. “You’re right, I could use some help. Zipper, you’re with me. You can keep watch over the studio this time and give me early warning if anything happens. We’ll be careful, and if the situation gets bad we can always call on security. Whoever wrote this note will be watching us, so we need to have it seem that we’ve swallowed the bait.”
       “Then we’d better do one thing more,” Sawyer said, taking Chip’s hat.
       “Hey!” Chip said. “Careful with that!”
       Sawyer grinned. “Don’t worry, we’ll bring it back safe. We’ll set up a dummy in your RangerWing to make it look like you’re along.” Gadget took the fedora from Sawyer. “That’s a great idea! I’ll gather some material and make one right away!”
       “Make sure to find something with a lot of hot air in it!” Dale shouted, then ducked as Chip tried to bonk him again. Soon the Rangers’ plan was underway and Chip watched them go with satisfaction. He missed his beloved hat, but it was a small sacrifice to be sure the plan unfolded seamlessly. He gave some instructions to Zipper and the fly nodded, buzzing his way outside. Climbing a telephone wire in the main office where they’d copied L.B.’s papers, Chip tapped out a series of numbers and waited.

       At Danny’s house, Leo knocked on his employer’s door. “Pardon me, Master Danny. One of your Ranger friends, Chip, is on the line.” Danny was in the zone now, and hated being interrupted. Still, if it was Chip, it had to be important. “Okay, tell him I’ll be right there. I’ll take it in the library.”
       Danny finished up the thought he was on, then quickly walked to the library and picked up the old antique receiver. “Chip? What’s this all about?”
       “I need you to come down to the studio right away, and you’ll probably want to bring your work with you. We may be here for a while.”

       While Chip and Zipper defended the studio, Stevens was driving Sawyer while she kept an eye on the RangerWing. For Sawyer, this new revelation had been a relief. L.B. had done so much for them, and it would’ve been such a betrayal if he had really been behind Danny’s problems. But still, maybe he was. After all, he could’ve written the mysterious note and now they could all be about to face his ire.
       Sawyer shook her head—that just wasn’t possible. No, it was likely what it appeared to be, the maniacal ravings of someone who had gained access to the company and had tried to discredit her friends while shifting suspicion. Whoever it is, they’re going to wish they hadn’t played this insipid little game, Sawyer thought, as she watched the RangerWing land on top of an old warehouse half a block ahead of them. It had taken them about twenty-five minutes to cover the distance, but Sawyer wished they hadn’t had to come so far. Her thoughts were still chiefly back at the studio.
       Signaling Stevens to stop well away from the warehouse, she got out, leaving him instructions to follow if she wasn’t back in half an hour. Quickly, the feline stole through the shadows, trying two doors to the warehouse before finding one that opened. This warehouse hadn’t been used in years, and the dust covering the floor and paraphernalia strewn about attested to it. Sawyer moved as quietly as she could, realizing that the slightest sound would echo horribly in this place.
       As she rounded a bunch of old packing crates, she stopped short. A shadow on the wall revealed what appeared to be a large human. And he was holding a pistol.

Chapter 5 – The Dream Continues and A Rude Awakening

       Danny had ordered Leo to stand by at the phone, then he picked up his typewriter. He’d forgotten how heavy it was, and lost his balance, knocking a stack of papers off his desk onto the floor. Danny packed his typewriter, notes, and new script into a nearby wooden crate and hefted the combination to his spacious garage.
       He’d put the contents into his white 1937 Auburn, a classic antique car which he favored driving, but then realized that if there was a criminal who might try something he could be tipped off by seeing that car so he took his red 1957 Cadillac instead. Taking the back way into the studio, Danny parked his car well away from any place he normally frequented and walked toward Stage 17. Fate was in his favor, and Danny ended up in the wardrobe trailer without anyone seeing him.
       “Chip?” Danny hissed. “You here?”
       “Right behind you.”
       Danny jumped, and Chip shushed him. “It’s okay,” Chip said, keeping his voice low. “We’re alone, though I don’t expect things to stay that way. I know who our criminal is and what he’s up to. I figured you’d like to be here when he comes.”
       “But how do you know?” Danny asked.
       “That’ll have to wait,” Chip said. “For now, go ahead and work on your script. I’ll keep watch.”

       With a few minutes of setup, Danny set to work again. It didn’t take long for him to get back into the swing of things. The peace and quiet of the trailer was just the thing he needed, and now things were going smoothly. On occasion Danny would look up at the sets and let his imagination take over.
       After about a half-hour, he’d finished another large scene. Danny looked ahead through the louvered windows at the huge stage in front of him and the setting sun that was just visible through a crack where the big barn doors met to the left. Chip was dutifully keeping watch, and Danny leaned back in his chair and in a few moments the only sound was the cat’s snoring.

       About that time across town, Sawyer was ready to make her move. The big shadow hadn’t moved for all of five minutes, and she was beginning to wonder where the Rangers were. Getting up from her crouch, she slowly moved toward a point where she could at least see who she was dealing with. Taking several precautions, she crawled her way on the floor around another packing crate—and screamed right at the moment the mouse she was facing screamed as well.
       “ARGH!” Sawyer shouted, for she’d come nose to nose with Monty.
       “Don’t EVER do that!” the two of them shouted at the same time. Then they both got down again, as well as the other Rangers. When they saw that the shadow didn’t move, they continued on together to where they could see the source of the problem.
       “A cardboard cutout!” Gadget exclaimed. And so it was—it was actually a quite small cutout, placed in front of an old burning oil lamp. “From the look of the wick and the odor of kerosene, this lamp’s been burning for quite a while. Perhaps a day or more.”
       “Looks like our bird’s flown the coop,” Sawyer said, picking up a piece of paper on a nearby table, the writing on it done using a felt tip pen as before. “Get this: ‘Dear Rangers, I have burned the script so don’t bother looking for it. I want it made clear why I committed the crime. The practices of men like L.B. Mammoth, making actors the directors of their own films, is ruining the corporate health of Hollywood for the sake of profit. I leave you now to go to a better country where the men in charge have more respect for the employees under them. The Phantom Moviemaker.’ “
       “Oh great, a wild goose chase,” Monty said. “First, the bloke steals the script then burns it and heads for the hills when we get too close. Makes you wonder why he did it in the first place.”
       Sawyer turned off the lamp. “Well, whatever the reason, it’s time for us to go.”
       “Miss Sawyer?” It was Stevens, come to check on them. “Are you okay?”
       “We’re fine, Stevens,” Sawyer said. “We’ll head back to the studio now and see how Danny and Chip are doing.” The group came outside, and Sawyer was about to get into the limo when Stevens gave out a shout of surprise. “Look, Miss Sawyer! Someone has let the air out of one of the rear tires!”
       “Peachy,” Sawyer said. “Must’ve been some kids with nothing better to do. There was a service station not too far back. Think you can jack up the car and get that tire off?”
       “At once, Miss Sawyer,” Stevens said, rolling up his sleeves. The Rangers decided to stay with Sawyer to make sure she’d be safe while Stevens reinflated the tire, and soon they watched the dutiful manservant roll the loose wheel down the street.

       Stan Kowalski—for Danny was dreaming again—was surrounded by laughter. It wasn’t the good kind of laughter as far as he was concerned, either. Stan had taken up Desiree’s challenge to try out for “Guys and Dolls” and to his utter surprise he’d won the lead. The source of the laughter wasn’t that, though. The theater team had been in rehearsals now for a couple of days, and word had slipped out that the football team’s quarterback was actually acting in a musical.
       The rehearsal was about halfway done when a bunch of big guys and a crusty old coach came in, followed by several of the more popular people on campus. Stan was crouched down on stage, dressed up as Nathan Detroit, and about to throw a pair of dice when he heard someone from the audience say, “Heavens to Mergatroid! The rumors are true. Verified, even!”
       Stan looked up to see all his teammates out there, jeering and making faces. Blanche was there too, of course. “Hey Stan,” she began, “this the best time-waster you could find? You could always have volunteered to be the team’s equipment boy.” The director, a crusty old British badger wearing spectacles, came over to the group. “Do you people have a reason for being here?” The coach grunted in humor, about the most amiable he got. “Sure do. That’s my starting quarterback up there making a fool out of himself.”
       “Sir, no one was ever made foolish practicing the fine art of the legitimate stage,” the director said. “In fact, I see several young men here who could likely benefit from a little drama and dance practice.” The laughter returned, and Bruiser stood up. “Yeah? Well, I’ll make a deal with you, tea and crumpets. If this namby-pamby stuff does our prima donna quarterback any good on the football field, we’ll all come and act and dance and sing in your pretty little plays for the next whole year. Right guys?”
       The players grinned and nodded and the director raised an eyebrow. “It is a deal, my friend. Now, if you please, we are in rehearsals.” Sawyer watched the team file out, still laughing, then turned to Stan. “Don’t let it bother you,” Desiree said. “You’re doing great, and I bet none of those guys would have the courage to get in front of an audience.”
       Stan knelt down and threw the dice—snake eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s not worth all this.” Desiree patted him on the back. “It’s worth it to me.” Stan looked up, and Desiree was holding her hands in front of her, smiling. Stan returned the smile. “Thanks, Des. I’ve got to admit, it’s been pretty fun.”
       “For me too,” Desiree said softly. “Now, you’d better get to football practice.”
       Stan had a thought. “Say, why don’t you come out for the cheerleading squad? I know they’d take you.” Desiree looked like Stan had asked her to stand on her head. “Cheerleading?”
       “Sure!” Stan said, smiling. “After all, you’d be cheering for me.”
       Desiree grimaced some, but she nodded. “Okay. For you. Now you’d better hurry. Those Pricetown Pachyderms are waiting for you this weekend.”

       Danny smiled in his sleep, and then something shook him out of it. “Come on,” Chip said, “wake up!” Yawning, Danny rubbed his eyes. “Something up?”
       “Ssh!” Chip warned. “Not so loud. Our mystery man just came on the lot.”
       Chip turned to Zipper, who had alerted him and was standing at the ready. “Get up in the rafters. If he escapes us, it’ll be up to you to see where he goes.”
       “Yes, sir!” Zipper saluted, then flew as quickly as he could to the top of the huge stage. Danny looked at his watch—eight o’clock. It was just over an hour since he’d come to the trailer, according to the clock on the wall. Chip doused the lights and silently they waited in darkness.
       Their vigil was not a long one, for in a few minutes Danny’s feline eyes caught a change in things. Something had moved out there inside the stage, and certainly it was alive. Only the night watchman had any business in this area, and he’d be outside, not inside this studio. The half-visible figure kept coming through the shadows and it became evident to Danny this person was carrying something heavy, for it caused the intruder to stumble a few times over the weight imbalance.
       Silently, Danny and Chip crept out of the trailer and decided on a plan of action. The dark figure was headed for the main set, and Danny moved toward the light switch controls. Chip meanwhile positioned himself where he could try to thwart the ne’er-do-well. The person stopped, setting down his load, and seemed to be trying to decide what to do next. Danny wasn’t going to give whoever it was time to think further. He flipped on the main light switches, bathing the encroacher in the bright floodlights.

       It was a hooded figure, but nonetheless the lights had caught him off guard. Danny stepped out into the open. “You there! Hold it!” The hooded rogue dropped the object he’d been carrying—a can of gasoline—and started to run. Then he tripped and fell, and the hood fell back on the fellow’s head. Danny was floored when he saw the man’s face. “Flanigan!? You’re the thief? But why?”
       Flanigan looked about, making sure his way of escape was still clear. “Why, you ask? Why, when I was about to lose everything I’d ever worked for!” Danny shook his head, not comprehending. “What are you talking about? You’re a director at one of the biggest studios in Hollywood! You live in a nice house, you dine with the rich and famous and you get to make movies. You’ve got it all!”
       Chip walked forward. “Yes, but that wasn’t enough for him. I figured out early on that someone was trying to set L.B. up, and the more I saw the more it pointed to Flanigan.” Danny raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Then why didn’t you tell anyone?”
       “Because if I had, we’d have had an ugly situation on our hands that we probably wouldn’t have been able to control,” Chip said. “I was concerned that Flanigan would get wind of my suspicions and try something drastic that would ruin the studio. I’ve had him tailed for the last day and I knew he was planning to come here tonight.”
       “How could you know that?” Danny asked.
       “My secret weapon!” Chip said, pointing to Zipper. The fly drew himself up proudly and Chip continued. “I met with Zipper secretly after he and Monty got back from Darla’s and I told him my conclusions. He’s been keeping a discreet eye on our friend here and saw him stow the robe and gas can in his car. He wouldn’t chance keeping those things in there for long, so it stood to reason he was planning on using them tonight.”
       “Then who are the others chasing?” Danny asked.
       “Shadows,” Chip said. “I needed to get them out of the way, so I planted some fake evidence to make it look like some disgruntled nutcase was behind this. That way, only you, Zipper and me had to know it was really Flanigan.”

       Danny looked down at the captured director, confused. “Why’d you do it, Flanigan? You’re the best-treated director in Hollywood!” Flanigan harrumphed at Danny’s reply. “Oh sure, but do I get noticed? No, it’s always the star! I had to play second-fiddle to that conniving little monster Darla for years, and put up with her endless tantrums! Did I get any credit for that? No!” Flanigan started to get emotional, and the frustration mounted in his voice. “For decades, I’ve worked and slaved, giving my life to my craft! And all I’ve ever been is tolerated! And now, to top it all off, I’m being replaced by a CAT!”
       Flanigan covered his head, weeping in a mire of self-pity. “A ca-aa-aa-at! DeMille would never have been replaced by a cat! But Flanigan T. Fosworth, he’s replaced without anyone batting an eye-laaaaash!” Danny walked over, sympathetic, and helped him up. “Hey, I know all about being ignored and treated with disrespect. I am a cat, after all. You know how hard I had to fight to get where I am now. Okay, so maybe you’re not Lucas or Scorcese, but you’re certainly better than Roger Corman or Ed Wood. I understand that you feel underappreciated, but what’s this all about?”
       Danny held up the gas can that Flanigan had dropped. “You hate me that much that you’d burn down the entire studio to hurt me? That’s so low...Darla would do something like that!” Flanigan looked up from his pity party. “You? No, wasn’t you at all! It was L.B. that I was after! He’s the one who made you director, who took all the glory of the studio’s accomplishments, and now that he’s about to retire he’s bound to name you as his replacement! That why I decided to ruin him, and in the worst way—in front of the board members! I intended to ruin his reputation with those false financial statements. He can’t stand humiliation, but I wanted him to get his turn at it just once!”
       “That’s the most selfish thing I’ve ever heard!” Chip chided. “You’ve made movies that entertain and uplift, people know your name! And you’re ruining the studio because you feel underappreciated?”

       Danny interrupted his smaller friend. “For putting up with Darla all those years you’ve shown you have a constitution of iron. You seemed happy when Darla got canned and we’ve worked together great all these years. I thought we had a great working relationship, Flanigan. We’ve done great things together. You made history being the first director over an all-animal movie. Doesn’t any of that mean anything to you?”
       Flanigan walked around, gesticulating. “Of course it does! Why would I be so infuriated otherwise?” He started to calm some, thinking on what Danny had said. “Yes, I enjoyed making history with you and Sawyer and all. You’ve...always treated me well. It’s just that now, just when everything seemed to be paying off for me and I’d finally get my turn at the big chair, L.B. pulled this publicity stunt and made you the head director. Danny, it was more than I could take! I’m...sorry I...shouldn’t have tried to take this out on you but...oh dear, oh dear. I’ve really ruined everything, haven’t I...”

       Danny understood it all now, and lowered his voice. “If it was such a problem, you should have talked to us.” Danny began to pace now, thinking. “The way I see it, we have two options: we could turn you over to the authorities or...uh, what did you do with my script?” Flanigan cringed. “Well, you see, uh...I sort of disposed of it. In my furnace at home.”
       “Or I could thank you for saving my career by destroying that dog of a script that I wrote. Having to rewrite ‘A Street Cat Named Desiree’ has allowed me make a much better story, a story with heart.”
       Chip looked at Danny, incredulous. Flanigan uncringed, studying Danny curiously. “Huh? You mean, it helped you?”
       “That first script was written with a single-minded purpose, writing a script so that a cat could direct a movie. I wasn’t thinking about making a good story—it was bland and lifeless. The new script reminds me of the old days, the days when people would tell me that cats don’t dance. The passion, the music’s there again! I’ve let myself get into the politics of Hollywood so much that I was beginning to forget why I came here in the first place.”
       Flanigan’s shoulders slumped. “I guess I was forgetting too. I wanted so badly to be head of Mammoth Studios I forgot why. You’re right—it’s not about the glory, but just making a difference.” Flanigan rubbed his forehead, repentant. “I don’t know what got into me, Danny, but now I’m ruined! I’m sure your allies have pieced together the entire puzzle, and L.B. himself will have the honor of booting me off this studio lot and into jail. Can’t say as I really blame him, either.”
       “Actually, they don’t know,” Chip said. “As I said, I knew that the situation was a delicate one so I planted some false evidence to lead them away. Then I had Zipper follow them and he deflated one of the tires on Sawyer’s limo to ensure they wouldn’t get back here before we could handle this on our own.”
       “So we’re really the only ones who know?” Danny asked.
       “That’s right,” Chip said. “Now we have to decide what to do with what we know. Do we go to L.B.?”

       “L.B. doesn’t have to know,” Danny said, then turned to the director. “Flanigan, you’re one step from the edge. You have to decide what you want. Do you want to keep doing what you love or do you want to destroy it if you can’t have fame and recognition for it?”
       Flanigan looked outside though the big barn doors, now open, at the huge Mammoth symbol, bathed in the moonlight. He’d been so young when he first saw that symbol, so eager. He’d worked up from best boy and grip to set design and finally to third assistant director. It took years more to gain the top spot, and when it did come it was in the B-movie lot at first. Patience had won Flanigan the more lucrative directing positions until he’d become L.B.’s right-hand man. Now, the years had gone by and he remembered—the tragedies, the happy times, the near misses.
       “We have made a lot of good movies here. In my own way, I’m just another Gutzon Borglum,” Flanigan said.
       “Huh?” Chip asked.
       Danny scratched his head, trying to recall if he’d ever heard that name before. “Yeah, if that’s a good thing, then yes you are! L.B. made me the director of this picture, but it would be very helpful having an experienced director backing me up. Flanigan, would you help me make history by helping me make the first animal-directed movie?”
       Flanigan grinned. “Gutzon Borglum was the artist who created the figures on Mount Rushmore. Everyone knows the work when you mention the place, but no one knows the artist. Still, I suppose that doesn’t matter. The work itself is more important. Okay Danny, you’ve got a deal.” Danny looked up at Flanigan and then extended his hand. “Well, with a name like that it’s easy to see why he’s not a household name. Next time, if there’s a problem, let talk about it first. Remember, we’re a team.”
       “Even if this doesn’t work out, thanks,” Flanigan said. “You’re a rare person, indeed.”
       “Thanks, Flanigan.”

       They shook hands, then Danny returned his attention to Chip. “That all right, Chip?” Chip rubbed his head, thinking. He missed his fedora, as he always believed he thought better with it on. “I don’t know…”
       “Please!” Flanigan said, kneeling down in a pleading position. “Haven’t you ever done something in a fit of passion that you regretted?” Chip slowly nodded. “A couple of times.”
       “Then can’t you understand the need to give someone who did a second chance?” Flanigan asked. Chip worked his teeth in his mouth, thinking it over some more. “Well, all right. But I’m going to keep an eye on you! If you’re trying to trick us—”
       “I’m not!” Flanigan said, taking one of Chip’s hands with his thumb and forefinger and shaking it. “Believe me, you won’t regret this. I’ll make it up to all of you, and I swear I’ll make things right!”
       Danny and Chip looked at each other and nodded, then Chip spoke to Zipper. The fly also agreed to keep their secret and Danny pointed the way to the nearby parking lot. “Okay Flanigan, you’d better make like a banana and split before someone comes in and sees you dressed like that with that gas can. They might mistakenly think you’re trying to burn down the place. We start shooting in less than a week. Are you going to be ready by that time?”
       “Yes, but what about your Ranger friends and L.B.? Surely they must be suspicious by now. How are we going to explain all this to them?”
       Chip stepped forward. “As long as my diversion holds up, they’ll think that the criminal got away and I won’t tell them any different.” Flanigan nodded, still somewhat in shock over his good fortune. “I’ll never forget this, Danny. I’ll make sure to have everything and everyone ready to go here when the new script’s finalized.” The director headed for his car and a minute later, the trio was alone.
       “Thanks, Chip,” Danny said. “You too, Zipper.”
       “But did we really do the right thing?” Chip asked. “We’re letting him get away with a lot. He did make a mistake, but shouldn’t he have to pay for that?”
       “Sometimes mercy’s more important than justice,” Danny replied.

       “He got away!?” L.B. shouted.
       “That’s right, sir,” Danny said. The tabby appeared glum, standing alongside Sawyer and the Rangers the next morning in L.B.’s office. “Tell them about it, Chip.”
       Chip came forward, taking off his hat. “Last night, my team and Sawyer traced the script to an old abandoned warehouse on the western side of town. Whoever this person was, he was slippery because by the time they got there they’d already flown the coop.”
       Sawyer took over. “Then we searched the place to try to determine the criminal’s identity and found this letter, evidently written for the Rangers...” She handed the letter over to L.B. and the owner of Mammoth Studios read it, chuckling as he finished. “Let him go, then. There’s no other country in the world that makes pictures the way we do. Let him burn all the scripts he wants! Don’t worry, Danny, we’ll get your movie made no matter what.”
       The Rangers, Sawyer and Danny exchanged smiles. “Glad you’re still with us on this, sir!” Danny said. “In fact, I’ve just about finished re-writing a new script that has a lot more potential than the first one—thanks to one of my new friends here.” Danny gently bumped Dale in the side, causing him to go a little off-balance.
       “Aw, it was nothin’!” Dale said.
       L.B. stood up, satisfied. “Excellent. If there’s anything you need to help you finish, let me know and I’ll personally see that you get it.” Danny shook L.B.’s hand. “I think Flanigan’s already handling that, sir. He’s really been a big help with recovering from all this, and I’m glad that I’ve got him to catch any mistakes I might make.”
       “Good, I’m glad he’s on board with this. He’ll show you the ropes of working behind the camera, and you might even be as good as he is someday, kid.”
       Danny grinned, ducking under his shoulders. “Well, Flanigan’s a pretty unique guy. It’d be hard to match the passion he has for the job, but I’ll do my best.” L.B. walked them all to the door. “Now you’d better get back to writing that script. Rangers, well, it perhaps worked out for the best that the thief got away. An arrest and trial would’ve been bad press for the studio, what with someone just waltzing in here and stealing a script right off the lot. Good work, and you can pick up your check from the accounting department.”

       As they left, Chip and Danny exchanged looks of relief. Gadget walked up to the both of them, looking up at Danny. “Well, I’m glad we were able to help save the studio. Wish we could’ve caught the criminal, though. Gosh, I guess this means we can go home now!” Dale didn’t like the sound of that. “Aw, do we have to? I hardly got any autographs in my book yet! We haven’t even gotten to meet Don Knotts yet.”
       Danny immediately blocked their route out of the studio. “Hey, you’re going to stick around for the start of filming at least, aren’t you? I mean, without you guys, things wouldn’t have worked out nearly as good! I’d like you to come and stay with me as my guests for a couple of weeks. I’ve certainly got enough room!”
       “And Gadget could stay over at my place, if she’d rather,” Sawyer added. “With your eye for inventing, maybe you’ll even come up with a way to improve my interior decorating.” Chip wasn’t eager to be away from his work for that long. “I don’t know if we could stay a couple of weeks, but perhaps a few days wouldn’t hurt.”
       Dale pressed him. “Aw c’mon, Chip! All you’re gonna do when we get back is read Sureluck Jones stories and go to the police station an’ you know it! This is a chance to see movie history being made!”
       “Got to admit, the bloke’s got a point,” Monty said. “It was kind of slow at home before all this, Chip.” Gadget threw in her two cents. “Well, it would be intriguing, but I’d also like to get back to my workshop pretty soon. How about if we stay a few days like Chip says and then come back for the filming and the premiere?”
       “That sounds like a good compromise,” Chip said. Danny grinned at Dale. “I’ll even invite Don Knotts to the premiere when it’s time. Along with the rest of you, of course.”
       “Wowie-Zowie!” Dale shouted. “Big time, here we come!”

Chapter 6 – A Not-So-Chance Meeting and the Big Finale

       Two weeks later, the Rangers gathered at Stage 17 of Lot C. Hot lights bathed the set below, giving the impression of being in a football stadium at night. Sawyer, in the role of Desiree, was on the sidelines in a cute cheerleader costume. The Rangers were in the stands nearby, which were packed with a lot of the classic cartoon animals. At the moment Woody Woodpecker was laughing that annoying high-pitched laugh of his as Slappy Squirrel chased him, trying in vain to bop him with her sledgehammer.
       Up in the announcers’ booth, Woolie the Mammoth was on the left for the Pricetown Pachyderms. “…and today’s gridiron altercation promises to be an epic battle of force versus speed,” Woolie said. Meanwhile, on the right, Tony the Tiger was announcing for Tuberville Tech. “It’s a showdown in Tiger Town! Today, the undefeated Pachyderms take on your Tuberville Tigers. The chief matchup to look for is our own Stan Kowalski against Pricetown’s leading defender, Max the Marauder! It’s going to be grrrrrrrrreat!”
       The crowd cheered wildly when the home team came out, Stan leading the way. Desiree jumped up and down, all the time fighting for position with Blanche. For her part, Blanche had welcomed Desiree onto the cheerleading squad eagerly—she wanted her close so she could get even with her. The Rangers watched everything going on with great interest. “Golly, this is so neat!” Gadget said. “We’re actually getting to watch a movie being made!”
       “And we’re right in the middle of it!” Dale said. “Say, where’s Chip?”
       “Oh, he’s backstage,” Monty said. “Something about checking back home for cases.”
       Dale looked incredulous. “When all this neat stuff’s happening!”

       Chip just couldn’t stand it. He’d had to call Tammy, who he’d left in charge of checking in at the police station. The munk had been disappointed when she reported that nothing was going on—he wasn’t big into this Hollywood stuff. The leader of the Rangers sat down for a minute on a prop park bench, thinking, when someone sat on the opposite side.
       “Hey chipmunk, where’d you get that funny-looking hat?” a voice spoke. Chip looked around and came face-to-face with a fedora-clad human, wearing a leather jacket. The human tipped his hat to him. “Nice choice.” The man got up, leaving an autograph for him on a small slip of paper. Chip was flabbergasted, his mouth wide open, as the human left the area. He grabbed up the autograph like it was gold, looking as the human left the building.
       “But how did…” Chip started.
       “That was a thank-you.” It was Flanigan. The director came up, tipping his director’s beret. “He used to do repair work on my house. We’re old friends.”
       “Gee, thanks Flanigan!” Chip said.
       “You earned it. Now, we’d better get back to the action.”

       Chip headed for the set and joined the others in the stands. “You’ll never guess who I just met!” Chip said excitedly, about to pull out the paper.
       “Quiet, Chip!” Dale said, shushing him. “You wanna get us thrown off the set? We’re coming up to the big scene now!”
       The game had been a battle, with Pricetown ahead 22-17 in the fourth quarter. Stan huddled the team near the sidelines. “Okay, we’re going to run X-5, slot right, post pattern. On three!” His team consisted of Yogi Bear and Snagglepuss at wide receiver, with the Swat Kats, T-Bone and Razor, in the backfield. Pudge was at center, and the rest of the offensive line was made up of the big animals on campus. As he spoke, Blanche began making some hand signals to the opposite sideline, and one of the Pricetown coaches wrote down something on a notepad. Desiree walked up to her. “And just what are you doing?”
       Blanche put her hands down, thinking fast. “Uh, I have a boyfriend on the Pricetown team,” she said. “I was just waving hello.” Desiree crossed her arms. “I thought Bruiser was your man. Blanche, if you say hello that way again, I’ll stuff those pom-poms you’re shaking down your throat.”
       “Break!” Danny shouted, and the Tigers came to the line. “Set! Hut one, hut two, HIKE!” Danny dropped back to pass and then it was as if the offensive line parted in front of him. Max—yes, that Max—came charging past Pudge and the rest of the offensive line like a one-man wrecking crew and stepped on Stan. It left a big indentation in the field, with Danny at the bottom of the giant footprint, and the ball popped and went flat.
       “Whoa, bummer,” T-Bone said.

       The referee blew his whistle and a medical team came out. Stan reached up his hand for them to help him, but instead they took the ball on the stretcher and took it off the field, tossing him a fresh one. On the sidelines, the coach signaled for a time-out. With that, a bespectacled water boy grabbed up his supplies. “When the team needs water I am not slow. It’s hip, hip, hip and away I go!”
       Stan swayed back and forth as he neared the sidelines. The coach caught him by the arm. “You’re stinking it up out there, Kowalski! It’s like they know what you’re calling before you call it!” Stan shook his head to clear it. “What’ll I do then, coach?”
       “Don’t waste any more footballs!” the coach shouted. “Our athletic budget’s stretched to the limit!” Desiree ran up to Stan. “Stan, are you okay?” Stan checked his playbook. “I don’t understand it! It’s like someone’s telling them what we’re doing!” Off to one side, Blanche and Bruiser traded winks. Desiree caught Stan’s attention. “I think Blanche and Bruiser are tipping off the other side. You’ve got to call an auditor.”
       “You mean an audible?” Stan asked.
       “Yeah, one of those! Do something unpredictable,” Desiree said.
       With that, the referee blew his whistle again. In the booth, Tony the Tiger was sweating bullets. “And it’s all going to come down to this, Tiger fans! Fourth and seven, and the Tuberville Tech boys have just ten seconds to score that touchdown!” Stan called his plays at the line, and again Blanche signaled the other side. Then Stan called a new play, catching them all off-guard.
       “Looks like Kowalski’s calling an audible,” Tony said. “He fades back, fakes to Razor, looking for a receiver, and FINDS Snagglepuss along the sidelines for the first down! Two seconds left now, with the receiver having made it out of bounds, stage right. Kowalski’s calling the team into the huddle.”
       “Okay, guys,” Stan said. “We need to score on this play. T-Bone, Razor, you two go deep with the others and look for it in the back of the end zone.”
       “Hey, hey, hey!” Yogi said. “Don’t worry at all, just throw me the ball!”
       “Give me time to throw, fellas. Break!” Stan said. Pudge came up to the line, and saw Max staring him down on the other side, sneering. Pudge growled back at him, causing the monolith of a man to blow him off the line—with his breath. The official blew his whistle, calling offsides on the Tuberville team.

       Stan gulped as he saw Max chuckling, then approached the huddle. On the sideline, Blanche had a pair of binoculars, watching the quarterback. She began scratching like crazy, and the Pricetown coaches immediately made some changes. Sawyer grabbed her purse and marched over. “Hey, you little cheat! What is it with you!”
       Blanche had been waiting for this moment and grabbed a bottle of fleas she’d been saving for just such an occasion. The bad little bunny uncorked the bottle and threw it at Sawyer. At the same moment. Sawyer swung her purse. The brass knuckles inside it hit the bottle, shattering it, and the contents went straight for Blanche.
       In moments, Blanche was scratching for real. “What’s wrong, Blanche?” Desiree said, laughing. “Your conscience itching you?” Blanche screamed in rage, then the crowd screamed in excitement. Sawyer shifted her attention as Danny took the snap.
       Danny handed off to T-Bone who drew the defense then tossed the ball back to Danny. “It’s a flea flicker!” Tony announced in the booth. “And Max breaks through the line!” Tony said. “He’s after Kowalski with a fury, no time left on the clock! Kowalski scrambles, he scrambles! A receiver’s open in the end zone—he’s counting nickels and dimes back there…”
       “Hey Yogi,” Boo Boo said from the stands, “why are you counting nickels and dimes?”
       “Because we parked in a metered space, Boo Boo!” Yogi said, then flipped his friend some change. “Here, you go—save our two-seater and go feed the meter!”

       Tony the Tiger was clenching his mike, looking like he wanted to strangle it. “No time left on the clock! Kowalski can’t see his receivers through the mound of defenders! Now there’s three, no, four of them on Kowalski’s tail!”
       Desiree could see Blanche and Bruiser laughing—though Blanche was paying for it—and knew that again they’d managed to tip the other team. In a flash of inspiration, Desiree headed for the bandleader and whispered into his ear. The leader nodded and the band began playing the fast Latin rhythm “Havana” from “Guys and Dolls”.
       “Stan!” Desiree shouted. “Remember the routine!”
       Stan was tiring, and he’d already given up fifteen yards avoiding the sack. Then he heard the band playing, and Desiree’s shout. He spun about, using his dance skills. Max leaped for the sack, but Stan leaped through the air and avoided him. The giant plowed a huge furrow in the field, half burying himself before he could stop. Two other Pricetown defenders went for the sandwich tackle with Stan in the middle, but Stan did a limbo move and they crashed into each other above him. He popped up and twisted and turned, dancing to the beat.
       “He’s at the forty, the thirty-five!” Tony said, his eyes bulging in wonder. “He fakes the linebacker with a pirouette and does a pas de deux over another! He’s at the twenty, the fifteen, ten, five! He leaps again, and—he’s in! Touchdown, Tigers! The Tigers win!”
       The crowd went wild with excitement, and Desiree ran out on the field. She hugged Stan tight. “You did it! You won!” Stan hugged her back. “No Des, we won. Thanks.” Slowly, they started to come together for a big kiss, when the team lifted the two of them on their shoulders. “Rah, rah! Tigers, Tigers!” they shouted, and they were off with a big flourish from the band to a big victory celebration.

       The scene faded, and when the next one began it was in the theater department. The stage director had a smug look on his face. “Now, once more, gentlemen,” the British badger said with a flair of satisfaction. “With feeling this time!”
       Up on stage, the entire football team, thanks to Bruiser, was adorned in tights and dancing to the opening music of “The Nutcracker”. The coach was up there too, dancing right along with them, and clouted Bruiser. “See what your stupid bet got us? I heard about your deal with that Blanche girl and our rivals, too. You’ll be running laps from now until doomsday!”
       The coach danced over to Stan. “I have to admit, without the dance training you’d never have made it. Even if we have to look like dorks, if it nets us more wins next year, it’s worth it.” Stan grinned, spinning around. “Don’t you worry, coach. We’ll be a lean, mean, dancing machine!”
       The team leaped as one through the air, shaking the entire stage, and the stage manager and the audience applauded. Desiree was also next to Danny, and smirked at the whole thing. “We’ve never had this many people come for a performance, much less a rehearsal. Looks like theater’s become popular all of a sudden.”
       “When you can watch 300-pound linemen stumbling around to the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’, you bet it is,” Stan chuckled. “Say, whatever happened to Blanche?”
       “Oh, she got her just desserts,” Desiree said.
       Backstage, Desiree grumbled. She’d been assigned to cater the meals for the team, and she was hurrying back and forth to get the cascades of food ready. Blanche scratched her head repeatedly, vowing never to even look at another quarterback.
       The scene switched back to the stage, where Stan and Desiree danced together, happy in each other’s company. The big football players lifted a long line of sugar plum fairies and turned completely around, holding them up as they finished their routine. The audience clapped its approval, and the curtain came down.

       “And, cut!” Flanigan shouted. “That’s a wrap, folks. Great job, everyone!” The Rangers, who had been in the audience, stood up and clapped again as Danny and Sawyer came down from the stage.
       “That was great!” Dale said, laughing still from the sight of those big guys on stage. “That’ll have ‘em rolling in the aisles. And the football stuff was the coolest!”
       “Glad you liked it, Dale,” Danny said. “So, can we count you an official musical fan now?”
       “You bet!” Dale said. “When you do the next one, call me. We’ll come up with all sorts of neat ideas, like a musical with vampires, Frankenstein monsters, werewolves…” Chip bonked him on the head. “Don’t worry about it, Danny. He’s always like that.” Danny blinked a couple of times, thinking. “A musical with monsters…”
       Sawyer bit her lower lip. “Uh oh…”
       Danny’s face lit up. “Come on, Sawyer! Let’s get back to my typewriter!”
       L.B. intercepted them before Danny could get going. “Great job, everyone. I have a really good feeling about this movie. Flanigan, for all the help you gave on this film, I’d like you to think about replacing me when I retire from Mammoth.”
       “Me, sir?” Flanigan said, happily surprised. “Really?”
       “Yes,” L.B. said. “You’ve always been a loyal Mammoth man, and I know you’ll carry on the legacy we’ve built here. What do you say?” Flanigan took off his director’s cap. “Sir, all I can say is thanks. I’ll do my best to justify your trust.”
       L.B. shook Flanigan’s hand. “Good, good. I had a feeling you’d come through if I gave you a chance. Now, what’s this I hear about a sequel, Danny?”
       “Oh, I’ve got this great new idea about monsters…” Danny started, but Sawyer pulled him aside. “Let’s enjoy the completion of this first movie,” Sawyer said. “Then we can start thinking about the next one.”

Chapter 7 – A Premiere Night to Remember and Fond Farewells

       Premiere night in Hollywood is always a spectacle. The spotlights told the glamour city that something big was going on, and limo after limo pulled up at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. When Sawyer’s limo pulled up, Stevens her manservant came around and opened the door. The crowd gasped in awe as Sawyer exited, wearing a sparkling sequined evening dress of fiery blue. Danny followed her up in his own limo, along with the Rangers. Danny was in a tux, as were the munks, Monty and Zipper.
       Gadget, despite her reluctance to dress up, had been influenced this time by Sawyer. She was wearing a sparkling purple full-length dress with matching shoes and a gold necklace. She wasn’t wearing makeup—Sawyer’s influence only went so far—but it hardly registered with anyone. As she walked up to the red carpet, escorted by the munks, the photographers were taking her picture as readily as anyone else’s. Then all attention went to Danny and Sawyer, who took up positions behind mikes set up for them.
       “Wow, what a turnout!” Danny said, his voice resounding through big speakers. “We really want to thank everyone for coming to tonight’s premiere of ‘A Street Cat Named Desiree’. It’s going to be great fun for you, but not as much fun as it was for us to make! Sawyer, anything you’d like to say?”
       Sawyer took the mike stand in her hands. “When we first came to Hollywood, they told us that cats don’t dance. Then when we made this picture they told us that cats don’t direct. Now we’ve proved them wrong on both counts. I eagerly await them to tell us something else we can’t do, just so we can show them they’re wrong!”

       The crowd gave a friendly laugh and clapped while Danny and Sawyer waved to the crowd and went inside, the Rangers right behind. There in the lobby, L.B. and Flanigan were in their tuxes, greeting the big-wigs and schmoozing up a storm. “Sweethearts, celebrities, dahlings!” Flanigan exclaimed. “The stars are here!”
       L.B. motioned Sawyer and Danny over. “Folks, these two cats have made Mammoth Studios what it is today. It’s a pleasure to be here for the historic opening of this first animal-directed picture!” There was more clapping and hand shaking, and then the small talk started. All the cast was there in their finest, of course.
       Pudge came up and got the Rangers’ attention. “Hi, guys! Just wanted to say thanks for all the help you gave us. Glad you could make it for the big premiere!” Dale gave the penguin a slap on the flipper. “We wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Stars! Photographers! Spotlights! Obscenely overpriced concession snacks!!!”
       Gadget pointed across the room. “Golly! Don Knotts!” Dale’s smile grew as he followed Gadget’s finger. Sure enough, Danny had kept his promise and Don came over and thrilled Dale with all his best Barney Fife lines, then signed his autograph book. Dale was in a state of euphoria, and didn’t even notice when he bumped into T.W.
       “Whoops, sorry there,” Dale said, helping the turtle up.
       “Oh, that’s okay. It’s probably good luck having a chipmunk bowl you over,” T.W. said. T.W. straightened his bowtie and then something fell out of his shell—a single bullet. T.W. grinned and put the bullet back in place, heading off.
       Dale scratched his head, thinking. “You know, come to think of it—”
       “Hey Dale, come on!” Chip shouted, waving Dale over, where he and the others were talking to Tillie, Woolie and Frances. “They want a group picture with us.”
       Frances looked Dale over. “Sort of shrimpy—reminds me of my fourth husband. Insisted on telling everyone he was a prawn.” Tilly jumped up and down, shaking the whole place. “Oboyoboyoboy, picture time!”
       Tilly picked the Rangers up in her hands, so they’d fit into the frame with the rest of them. All the crew gathered around and in a puff of smoke and light the picture was taken. Tilly set the Rangers down again, and Dale now was as excited as Tilly had been. “Wowie-zowie! This stuff is great! I think I feel a song coming on!”
       Chip cast an annoyed look in Dale’s direction. “Don’t be silly, Dale. There’s no such thing as spontaneous singing! That just happens in the movies.” Dale crossed his arms. “Oh yeah? Hit it, guys!”

       Conveniently, there was a small ensemble of musicians in the lobby, and they hit on the tune to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” as Dale started singing.

       The Rangers are here to stay
       We came and saved the day!
       When the odds aren’t very good
       And you’re down and out and you’re mis-un-der-stood, hey,
       The Rangers are here to stay!

       Dale pointed to the other Rangers. “C’mon guys, sing along!” The Rangers took up the lyrics the second time through, save Chip. Then Dale put an arm around his old friend, who was blushing with embarrassment at being the center of attention.

       Some munks might be a little smarter than I am
       Bigger and stronger, too
       But none of them will ever annoy you
       The way I do,
       It’s me and you, bud!

       Now Chip joined in with him, laughing.

       And as the years go by
       Our friendship will never die
       Two munks making those bad guys pay!
       The Rangers are here to stay!

       The rest of the Rangers backed them up. “You got that right!”

       The Rangers are here to stay!

       “Out of sight!”

       The Rang-ers are here-to-staaaaay!

       The munks finished up with an improvised soft-shoe and the crowd clapped in approval. Sawyer leaned over the two munks. “All he needed was a little inspiration, right Dale?”
       Chip tipped his fedora. “Okay, maybe there is such a thing as spontaneous song.” Dale grinned. “Yep! Just have to have your heart open and feel the beat!” Meanwhile, Woolie and Monty were talking about places they knew in common. “…so there I was, right in the middle of darkest India!” Monty said.
       “Darkest India?” Woolie said. “Don’t you mean darkest Africa?”
       “No, mate! I was right in the middle of an India ink factory and they had a big spill!” Monty laughed and Woolie shook his head. “I should have known. You know, I’m not exactly comfortable around mice.”
       “That why you didn’t take that Colonel Hathi role down at MouseWorks?” Monty asked.
       “Precisely. Every actor has his limits, after all.”

       With that, someone gave the five-minute warning until curtain. The group started heading into the huge theater, and soon the movie began. Danny was understandably nervous, but as time went on and he saw the critics were staying he slowly relaxed. The crowd reacted exactly the way he’d hoped, and the movie ended with the audience laughing along with the kicker at the end. When the lights came up the crowd clapped and whistled, and Danny breathed a sigh of relief.
       The tabby looked around at the others. “Friends, I think they like us!” T.W. trembled, looking for the exit doors. “Do you think we can get out of here without having any black cats crossing our path?”
       “Oh, don’t be silly, T.W.,” Tilly said. “That was so much fun!” Tilly giggled and got up. When she did, the seats around her settled back down to normal height. However, it’d helped both Pudge and the Rangers, so they didn’t mind. “That was cool!” Pudge said. “I looked really menacing as the center on that football team. Maybe I should’ve tried out for the lead in the new ‘Hulk’ movie after all.”
       Cranston crossed his arms, looking at Danny. “They’ll probably snub you out for Best Picture and Best Director.” Danny shrugged. “Well, if they do, it won’t take away from it being a good movie.”
       “Well said,” L.B. said. “Now, everyone join me for a premiere celebration party at the Trocadero, my treat!”
       “Now that’s the kind of words I like to hear!” Dale said. “Lead the way!”

       L.B. regaled the entire cast and crew and the Rangers to song, food and the best of everything. Dale spent the entire evening going from table to table, filling up his autograph book. Danny and Monty told their favorite stories for hours on end, while Gadget had an entire entourage of guys surrounding her (much to Chip’s jealousy) while she explained everything from quantum theory to the mechanics behind automated stage lighting.
       Danny was telling the story of how he got the lead for his first starring role when Sawyer tapped him on the shoulder. “Care to dance?” she asked. She didn’t have to ask twice. The orchestra met them with “In a Sentimental Mood” as they took the dance floor, and the patrons clapped their approval as the duo glided across the floor.
       “Thanks for standing by me, Sawyer,” Danny said. “I couldn’t have gotten through all this without you.”
       “You’re welcome, Danny,” she replied. “And we can’t forget the Rangers, either. I was wrong about them, I admit it. They had a lot to do with everything turning out right. But I’m glad that you found the way to have fun again, and that everything worked out.”
       Danny looked into her eyes for a moment, then looked away, then back. “Um, Sawyer?”
       “Would you, uh, well…like to…that is…”
       Sawyer’s face brightened, and her eyes shone. “Stan Kowalski, are you asking me to go steady?” Danny smiled back and nodded. “After all, we won the big game. What would I do without you, Des?” Sawyer laughed. “Go down the drain, most likely. Okay, mister popular, give me your class ring and we’ll call it a square deal.”
       Danny reached into his pocket and pulled out an exquisite diamond ring, slipping it onto her finger. “I bought this years ago, but I never had the courage to give it you. I just didn’t know how you’d react.” Sawyer gasped at the sight and Danny grinned. “I always said that you’re my Starlight, and the sparkle from that’ll always remind me of it.”
       Sawyer wrapped her arms around him, giving him one platinum smooch. “Does that answer your question on how I’d react?”
       “Uh huh…” Danny said, ecstatically surprised. “Um, does this mean that we’re, uh, engaged now?”
       Sawyer held up the ring. “You better believe it, big shot.”

       The crowd broke into applause, and from every corner photographers appeared, splashing the room in light. Their friends came up to congratulate them, and Tilly picked up the whole bunch, overcome with joy. The next day, the papers had a splendid picture on the front page, announcing the engagement:

Glamour Cats to Tie the Knot!

        The first person to see it was Danny, who had it in his hands as he and Sawyer were standing in Danny’s front yard to bid the Rangers farewell.
       “Thanks for everything you’ve done,” Danny said. “You’re always welcome to visit, and we’d like you to come back when we set the date.”
       “Gosh, this is exciting!” Gadget said. “I think it’s great that you’re getting married. Don’t you think so, guys?” Chip nodded, holding his jacket lapels. “Can’t think of two people that’ll do better. Well, we’d better be getting back home. It’s a long flight, and crime never sleeps.”
       The Rangers exchanged pleasantries with Danny and Sawyer, then Gadget started up the RangerWing. The two cats waved goodbye and watched the small aircraft disappear into the distance. Danny put his arm around Sawyer. “Well, what’ll we do for an encore?”
       Sawyer took his hand. “What else?”
       Music started from somewhere, and the two of them were off and dancing. They danced all around the yard, around the house, into Danny’s rehearsal room and kept on going. Everything in their world was right, and with each one to give the other strength they both sensed it was going to stay that way.
       In a few minutes they got into Danny’s Auburn, headed for a celebratory drive around town. Leo took the record he’d put on the turntable off, putting it away. The dutiful butler watched through the window as they motored away, and grinned. “One thing is certain—life here will never be boring.”

Danny, Sawyer, L.B., Flanigan, Tillie, T.W., Frances, Woolie, Pudge, Cranston, Darla Dimple, Max, Slappy Squirrel and Yakko Warner are copyright Warner Brothers and used without permission. Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, Magilla Gorilla, Fred and Wilma Flintstone and the Swat Kats are copyright Hanna-Barbera and used without permission. Woody Woodpecker is copyright Universal Studios and is used without permission. Underdog is copyright Total TV Productions and is used without permission. Tony the Tiger is a registered trademark of the Kellogg Company, and appears without permission. The Rescue Rangers, Tammy and Norton Nimnul are copyright Disney and are used without permission, but with the utmost respect.