Dreams At The Crossroads
By Indy and Chris Silva


Authors' note--This story continues the plotline started in parts one and two. Reading those two is not absolutely necessary to understanding this installment, but it helps. This pivotal portion of the saga starts with and continues a different tone than its predecessors, and we hope that readers who had difficulties before will enjoy the journey this time out.


Chapter 1 - A Meeting to Remember

       Chip Maplewood's personal notes, Volume 12, May 19th, 5:58 am.
       It's been nearly three weeks since the prom now, but it seems like an eternity ago. Gadget and Dale have gone out of their way to be nice to me since we made up, and now that I've taken some time to step back and breathe I'm feeling better.
       I still feel love for Gadget, but I just express it different now. Yesterday, she asked me if I'd help her in her workshop. I hadn't been in her workshop for a while, so I thought I might hesitate but she just smiled and I found myself going along. Then I found out why she wanted me in there - Dale and Gadget had made me a portable book stand especially for my oversized Sureluck Jones book. 'Remember how you always said you wanted one?' Dale had said. 'Well, I told Gadget and we went to the library and found a picture of one from the old days. She figured out how it was made, and then we got the parts and slapped it together!'
       I've got to admit, I had always wanted a Victorian style book stand, and this one was just as nice as any Sureluck Jones would've had. Gadget even put a battery-operated light on it so the stand could be used at night. Dale came up with the idea of using a scaled-down windshield wiper blade - also battery powered - to turn the pages. It works…sometimes. Still, I don't mind turning pages on my own. They were both very pleased I liked it.
       Foxy and I are taking a wait-and-see attitude now. She was so flattered I asked her to marry me, but in the light of cold reason I now realize I reacted too quickly. She's not ready, and neither am I. On the other hand, I'm becoming concerned that she's too willing to marry me now at the abandonment of all else. I do enjoy spending time with her though and in the next couple of days I'm going to see if I can find out what her interests are. I feel love for her too, but at the same time I'm worried about her. Love's hard to explain, but maybe time will work things out.
       I hear Monty in the kitchen getting ready for breakfast so I'd better close and get ready for another day.
       Yours truly,
       Chip Maplewood

       "So Dale, when do I get to see your mom and dad?" Gadget asked, looking at Dale as they sat alone on the sofa. Dale gulped, and any exuberance he'd had that morning left like a kite being blown away in a hurricane. Now that she'd accepted him, Gadget had agreed that they should take it day by day. Despite her patience, Dale had never even brought up taking Gadget to see Anne and Duncan Oakmont. Now she'd asked and Dale knew he'd have to face it - but not willingly. "Uh, mom and dad? Well, I was thinking of breaking it to them slow. Say over the next 50 years?"
       Gadget put her hands on her hips. "When their grandchildren are having children?" Gadget stood up and walked over to where she was in front of him. She took on a look of sincere concern and placed her hands on Dale's shoulders. "Dale, we've got to tell them. I've only met them the couple of times they've been over here. Can't we go now, please?" Dale knew she was right, but he'd been dreading this particular idea ever since he proposed. "Well, they might not feel the shock so bad then. Oh, all right. But I haven't even been to see 'em myself yet since this all started! They don't really know what's happened and when they not only see me like I am now but they see you and me, I think they're gonna think I've been replaced by a space alien!"
       Gadget's look was one of amusement as she helped him up. "What a silly notion! Who ever heard of such a thing?" Gadget then began giggling. "I have some urkburgles in the kitchen if you're hungry..." Dale took on a mischievous grin himself. "Want me to show you what Fleeblebroxians do for fun?" Dale twiddled his fingers, warming up to tickling Gadget.
       Gadget saw it coming and started backing away from Dale with a knowing smile. "Uh, I think I hear Monty calling me…" Then she turned and raced from the room. Dale struck a dramatic pose. "You're not getting away that easy! Ticklemeister, away!"
       Dale took off in full pursuit, giggling with the fun of the game. The chase continued from room to room, then Dale ran into her workshop. He thought that he'd heard her go in, but he didn't see her. He looked out into the hallway and toward the main room, but she wasn't there. "Now where did she go?"
       "Look out below!" Gadget shouted. She detached herself from her plunger shoes where she'd been waiting on the ceiling, landed behind Dale and quickly tickled his ribs until he submitted. "Yaaaah! Tickle commando! I give, I give!" Dale cried. Gadget laughed, glowing with the fun of the moment, and gave Dale a few moments to regain his composure. Then her mind focused on a very serious question.
       "Do you think your mom and dad will approve of me?" Gadget asked. Dale allowed the last of the giggles to leave him and took on a serious tone. "How could they not? You're the greatest person that they or anyone could have asked for in a daughter-in-law!" Gadget sighed lightly with a mild sense of worry and began putting up some of the tools she'd left lying on her workbench from a project she'd worked on earlier in the morning. "I hope they feel that way when they meet me. Do you think they'll mind that you're marrying a mouse?"
       "Actually, you won't be the first mouse in the family. My aunt Agnes married a British mouse named Percival Montgomery. They live in Europe, so I don't get to see them very often," Dale said. Gadget was glad to hear that, but at the same time she wondered if it was an approved marriage. "Did your parents feel it was okay for her to do that?"
       "Dad didn't mind Percival marrying his sister, and the whole family was there for the wedding. They've got two kids - cousin Ed from his first marriage and Richard they adopted," Dale said. Gadget felt much more relieved, but wondered why Dale hadn't mentioned this before. "What is your Aunt Agnes like?"
       Dale got a glint in his eye. "She's great, they both are. They're both world travelers, so they're hard to get in touch with. They both work with the Rescue Aid Society." Gadget had another thought when Dale mentioned Percival. "I just realized, Percival Montgomery's a famous painter. Maybe your parents didn't mind because he was famous. I'm just a mouse who likes to invent and help people. Dale, are you sure they're not going to mind I'm a mouse?"
       Dale chuckled and gave her a reassuring hug. "Gadget, give your mind a rest," Dale said. "I know it's usual for a chipmunk to marry another chipmunk. They're not the type that would hold it against you or anything, especially when they see how happy we are. What am I saying - when they see what I'm like now, they're bound to kneel down and kiss your feet!"
       Gadget looked on her fiancé with an almost motherly feeling. "Oh, Dale! You've always had great potential. You've just never had anyone to believe in you before!" Dale always felt better once he'd talked things out with Gadget. She had that way of bringing things into perspective for him. "I can't wait for them to meet you. Do you wanna visit 'em at their house or should I invite 'em over here?"
       Gadget gave it some thought. "Well, since its sort of a 'family' type visit we should probably go there. That way they'll be in their element and maybe they won't feel too shocked when they find out." Dale had his own thoughts on that matter, but kept them to himself for the moment. "Sounds good to me! But if we're gonna get married as soon as you say we'd better visit them real soon so they have as much time as possible to get used to the idea. Or you and I could just run off to Las Vegas and get married by a minister that's dressed like Elvis!"
       Gadget chuckled then shook her head slightly. "I'll pass on that one, but we should go ahead and see them. Do you'll think they'll be in this afternoon?" Dale nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure they'll be. Just be yourself and they'll love you almost as much as I do."
       Dale and Gadget left the workshop and went on to breakfast. Chip and Foxy had just walked in and the foursome joined Zipper and Monty at the table.
       "Good morning, everyone," Chip said. "Well, looks good to see everyone having a good time again. Have some syrup, Dale?"
       "Oh, yeah! Waffles and syrup are tops!" Dale said. Gadget grabbed the syrup container before Dale could soak his waffles in them. "Now Dale, remember your agreement," Gadget said.
       "Aw, but no syrup?" Dale asked. "Waffles ain't worth eating without it!" Monty looked at the pair curiously. "What's up, Gadget luv?"
       Gadget hugged Dale, who was sulking now. "Dale and I talked last night, and he told me all of his sugar-eating was a way he used to forget his problems. He hasn't been able to stop, so he's asked me to help him," Gadget said. Dale had a look that said 'pity me.' He leaned his left elbow on the table, and put his chin on his left hand. "Now that I've got a reason to be healthy, my stomach and I aren't seeing eye to eye on it."
       Chip blinked, unbelieving. "You mean you're going on a diet, Dale?" Chip looked to Gadget, and she nodded. Chip had an amused look on his face **No one's ever been able to get Dale to diet before. This is amazing.** Dale grimaced some at the idea. "Not really a diet, I just gotta cut back." Gadget poured a reasonable amount of syrup on his waffles. "There. And you can still have the things you like, Dale. We'll moderate it little by little and cut out the excess candy eating. If you'll start exercising with me in the gym in the mornings, you'll lose those extra ounces in no time!"
       Dale was still getting used to sharing his life like this, but they'd agreed to work things out now before they married and Gadget was so kind about her advice that it didn't bother him long. At her last words, Dale perked up again. "Yeah! We'll be lean, mean, painting, inventing, fencing, roller-skating machines!"
       **Poor Dale,** Chip thought - still Gadget was right and he was glad that she'd managed to budge him on something so central to his life as sweets. "Well Dale, I'm glad to see you taking your own health so seriously for once. Criminal activity's been pretty low right now, so once Foxy and I check the police station, we're going to the beach."
       "Oh, it'll be so much fun!" Foxy said, quivering with excitement. "Gadget, Dale, would you like to come too?" Dale rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh, well actually…"
       "What Dale means is that we've already made plans for this afternoon. We're going to visit his mom and dad," Gadget said.
       "You are? Oh wow, that must be so exciting for you two!" Foxy said. "You're going to see them for the first time as a couple. Isn't that exciting, Chip?" Chip got a mischievous grin on his face. "I've got to admit, I'd love to see their faces when they find out. Good luck, you two!"
       Dale looked up, a little surprised at Chip's comment. Dale shook his hand. "Thanks, Chip. And Gadget and I might be moving up the date of the wedding now. Instead of three more months, we're talking about going with about a month and a half."
       The others looked at the couple in curiosity, and Gadget cleared her throat to field the question. "I want to have my wedding on the same day as my mom and dad's wedding. I hope you guys don't mind." Chip nodded, and mentally noted that Dale had been smart to give in to Gadget's request. "Nope. But didn't you say that Bianca Râboga was handling your wedding plans? You'd better let her know that too."
       Gadget's eyelids went up in sudden realization. "Golly, I forgot all about that! We'd better call on her today! Thanks for the reminder, Chip." Foxy had been captivated by the idea of Bianca ever since the others had mentioned her. "I can't wait to meet her! She sounds so exotic and fascinating."
       The remainder of breakfast went quickly, and Dale took the first opportunity to get up from the table. Gadget finished, made a polite exit and went out as well. She found Dale on the veranda, leaning on the rail and thinking.
       "Dale, don't worry. I know change is hard, but things will settle down again. You'll see," Gadget said. Dale looked at his fiancée with a semi-worried look. "I know, but maybe so much change in just a few weeks isn't good for a guy." Gadget leaned on the rail with him. "Why not? All you've done is find some self-confidence and change some habits that were predicated on your past behavior. I think all your changes have been for the better."
       Dale took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Yeah, I guess you're right, and your changes have made you even better than you were before." Gadget blinked at Dale's reply. "My changes? Golly, I didn't notice that I'd changed much. Well, I suppose admitting I love you and that I'm marrying you are two big changes."
       "I agree," Dale said. "But you gotta admit, getting out of the treehouse a couple days a week's a good change. You never used to have any fun!" Gadget took on a thoughtful look. "Well, fun for me is having something to do. I love inventing and helping others along with the Rangers, but before I started doing things with you I kind of felt that going out was wasteful since it didn't produce anything. Now I realize that there's a benefit in doing something that's…that's…"
       "Just pure fun?" Dale offered.
       "Yeah, I guess that's it," Gadget said. "I've enjoyed having fun, and not feeling embarrassed to watch cartoons in front of the others. I guess I've regained a little of my childhood, and you've gotten some maturity." Dale nodded, and a feeling of uneasiness passed through him. "I just hope we don't change a bunch, and then we won't be the same fun-loving people we fell in love with." Gadget looked at Dale curiously. "What could possibly change us, in light of what we've already been through? It took years of waiting for either of us to admit our feelings. I think we can handle any problem that comes up, together."
       "That's the strange part - 'together'. I've kinda gotten used to the idea that I'd always be alone. Now all that's changed and the future's, well, sorta frightening." Gadget took his hand again, patting it. "The unknown is kind of scary, but I'll always be your friend no matter what comes."
       Dale turned now to face her, his eyes full of worry. "I know, but now I've got to be more responsible and all. I don't know if I can be that strong. That thing with Chip could easily've been just a once and done deal. I hated myself for it after, even though now it seems to be okay. I couldn't do that to him again." Gadget smiled and shook her head. "I know you couldn't Dale, and neither could I. I'm just glad Chip isn't holding it against us. But Dale, you are strong, and you've proven it to us all. I know you, Dale Oakmont, and you're no flash in the pan."
       Dale studied her face closely, than brightened up. "Yeah, I guess you're right. I know you'd never lie to me." Gadget smiled back and leaned back on the railing. "I know you're not perfect, and I don't expect you to be. We'll both make mistakes along the way." Then Gadget whispered into his ear, "As for lying, I could never lie to Double-O-Dale, superspy." Gadget tickled his ear, and took his arm, "Now how about we get out of here and introduce your parents to the new Dale Oakmont and his fiancée?"
       "Good idea, Gadget. They don't have enough surprises in their life," Dale replied.

       Since it was a pretty day in May, they almost decided to walk over. At the last minute, Dale said he'd rather get there as quick as they could so 'the torture would go quicker'. The Oakmonts lived within easy flying distance, in a large oak grove near the city zoo. Dale tried to keep his attention on Gadget as she flew the RangerWing, but thoughts of his parents kept running through his head. Gadget saw it and tried to distract him. "I can't wait to meet my new family! Dale, do you have any siblings or are you an only child?"
       Dale had never been asked much about his family, so the question came as somewhat of a surprise. "Well, I do have an older sister named Melanie. She's about four years older than me, and left home a good while back. I think she's living in Florida now, but she doesn't write much."
       "Well, I hope she comes up for her brother's wedding," Gadget said, pointing the Wing down as they neared the oak grove. "I'm sure she will," Dale said. "There's only one person who might not be able to make it, and that's my Aunt Agnes. She's a world traveler like Monty and she's really hard to get in touch with."
       Gadget was beginning to wonder just how many secrets this munk was keeping. "A world traveler? That sounds like Monty. What does your aunt do?" Dale shrugged. "Honestly, I'm not real sure. Last I heard, she was a writer and did some work for the R.A.S."
       "Hey, maybe Bianca can get in touch with her for us! It's certainly worth a try. She sounds like someone worth meeting," Gadget said. Dale brightened at the thought of his aunt, and nodded his agreement. "She's a lot like me but completely different, but in a good way."
       Gadget grinned as they landed, and the duo made their ascent up the Oakmonts' tree. "That's my Dale, clear but cryptic. Well, here we are!" Dale put his arms gently around Gadget. He was still amazed that he was allowed this privilege, and always did so tentatively. "Gadget, I'm so glad you're here..."
       Inside, Anne Oakmont had just finished dusting when she heard voices coming up the tree. She froze for a moment, and listened. Then Anne recognized one of them and rushed to the door. As she opened it, she found her son kissing a gorgeous blonde mouse.
       "Dale, it's...you..." Anne said, stunned. Dale's mother stared for a moment, then as if the scene in front of her was totally beyond belief she slumped to the ground and fainted. Gadget let go of Dale and knelt down next to Anne. "Golly, Mrs. Oakmont! Is she all right?"
       Dale rushed to his mother and carried her to the sofa. He grabbed a pillow and gently propped her head up. "Zowie, she fainted! I knew it'd be a surprise, but that was ridiculous! Hey, Dad! You home?!" Gadget checked Anne's vital signs. "She seems to be okay, but maybe you should get her some water."
       "Yeah, good idea," Dale said. "Dad?" Dale rushed into the kitchen and quickly returned with a glass of water. From somewhere in the home, Duncan Oakmont's voice rang out. "That you, Dale? I'll be out in just a minute...."
       Dale held the glass, waiting for his mom to reawaken and raised his own voice to get to wherever his dad was. "Take your time, dad. I just stopped by so you could meet your soon-to-be daughter-in-law!" Duncan came into the room, still dressed in his fencing outfit. He'd been practicing in his exercise room, but with Dale's last sentence he came in, sword and all. "What did you say about…Anne! Is she all right?"
       Gadget put on the best smile she could manage. "She's fine, Mr. Oakmont. She just had a little surprise, that's all." Gadget asked Dale for the glass and gave Anne the water to drink. Momentarily, Anne started to come around.
       "That's a relief," Duncan said, walking over to check on his wife. "Oh, hello Gadget. Dale, what's this about a daughter-in-law? Are you saying you think you're getting married? Who to?"
       Gadget grinned to herself at Duncan's innocent question as Dale took her hand. Dale cleared his throat to grab his parents' attention. "Mom, Dad, Gadget has agreed to be my wife!" Gadget turned to look straight at Dale as she started speaking. "Anne, Duncan - is it okay if I call you by your first names? I sure hope it is because I like the idea of first names. It's so comfortable. So, what do you think of us?" Then Gadget noticed Dale's demeanor had changed. "What is it, Dale?"
       "We sorta lost 'em both about the time I said 'wife'," Dale said flatly. Gadget turned to find both the elder Oakmonts out on the coach. "Oh uh. We got a problem." Dale sighed and headed for the kitchen. "Lemme go get some more water..."
       Gadget regarded the unconscious parents with a shade of concern. "Golly, I hope this isn't going to happen every time you mention the word 'wife'. I mean, being your wife's going to be such a nice thing and all and I'd hate not to be able to say the word 'wife' around them. After all, it's not exactly a foreign concept for one's son to find a wife and all..."
       Dale returned quickly with two glasses. "Gadget, they're just surprised. Soon they'll love to hear that word!" Duncan and Anne began to come around again as Gadget and Dale helped them respectively. Duncan opened his eyes groggily.
       "Dear, did you hear what I heard?"
       Anne looked over at her husband, equally groggy. "What's that, Duncan?"
       "I think I heard our boy said he was marrying Gadget," Duncan said.
       "You must have not listened closely. Now what did you tell your father, dumpling?" Anne asked.

       Dale grimaced inside at his mom's using that old nickname for him. He'd hoped Gadget would never learn that one. "Okay, I'll tell you again, but promise not to faint. Gadget and I are getting married. She's going to be my w...uh, significant other."
       Anne didn't faint, but she did blink a lot. "I heard it too, Duncan." Duncan stood up from the couch, not quite certain if this wasn't one of his son's more elaborate jokes. "Son, are you serious about this? Is she serious? How did this happen?"
       Gadget wondered how they could be married and not know the answer to the question, but she wisely refrained from pursuing that. "Well, it's a fairly long story. I've had feelings for Dale a long time, but I didn't know about his feelings for me until recently." Duncan looked back to his w…significant other. "It sounds like she's serious, Anne. What about you, boy? I thought she was Chip's girl..."
       Dale and Gadget both grimaced in pain, and Dale was first with an explanation. "Well, there was a big misunderstanding I'd rather not talk about right now." Gadget knew that they couldn't leave his parents hanging like that, so she stepped forward. "Well, I'd never made my feelings known to either of them, but when I told Chip that I loved Dale, he got very upset."
       Anne stood up at this news, and she gave her son a quick look-over. "He did? Oh Dale, where did he hurt you?" Duncan got up and looked as well, even feeling his head for bumps and bruises. "I don't see anything. Are you okay?" Dale gave his parents an indignant look. "As a matter of fact, I won the fight. He got in some good punches, though." Gadget thought he could have been more charitable, but she wasn't going to argue here. "Dale's not exaggerating. He did defeat Chip fair and square-awful as it was."
       Duncan touched Dale's forehead. "He doesn't have a fever, dear. I think they're telling us the truth." Anne was simply flabbergasted at the idea of her little boy fighting with Chip, much less winning. "You fought Chip and beat him? Son, you've never stood up to anyone before in your life, especially him! What possessed you to do that?"
       "There have been a few times, mom. I just never told you. I had to grow up and prove to myself and to Gadget that I could stand up for what mattered to me." Dale's face had become hard during this talk, but then he saw the looks of concern in his parents' faces and his visage softened. "I didn't want to fight with Chip, but he didn't leave me any other choice. I've felt bad about it ever since."

       Duncan had watched Dale as he talked, and realized that what Gadget said was true. He was different - more confident, bolder. Even his speech tones were stronger. "Dale, you know I don't approve of fighting to prove a point but perhaps in this case we can overlook it. I can see that both of you are serious, but aren't you two moving a little fast with this idea of marriage?"
       Dale knew that question was coming, and it was the one he was prepared for. "Well, it's not like Gadget and I just met. We've known each other for years and like she said, 'we want to get married, so why wait?'"
       "This wasn't a sudden decision," Gadget said. "We've both talked this out with each other at length over the past few weeks. We know it's going to mean a lot of changes for us both, but we're both committed to making this work.."
       Anne still wasn't convinced. "Have you two thought through how this will affect your daily lives? Do you still plan to remain part of the team, or is Chip even still with you?" Dale felt a twinge of embarrassment at not mentioning how things had ended up with Chip. "Oh, that's all worked out now. Chip took some time and thought about it and now he's a lot better. It was just the shock and all, y'know. The team's alive and kicking, especially with Foxglove helping Chip. And us, we'll live in sort of an apartment higher up the tree, but still connected to the rest of Ranger HQ."
       "Chip already has another girl?" Anne asked. "It doesn't sound like he stayed upset for very long." Dale shook his head. "It's nothing like that, mom. Chip still cares about Gadget, but Foxglove's being around is pretty much what started this whole thing..." Dale then proceeded to explain the events leading up to his engagement to Gadget.

       Duncan had to admit, it was quite a series of events. "So you both had life-changing experiences at the same time. Chip's strong, though. I can remember those days when he'd practice fencing with us. He wasn't as naturally gifted as you were, but he'd pour his all into it. He'll rebound, and from what you've said it sounds like he already has some. Now we have our boy standing here with a very pretty young lady. What do you think of her, Anne?"
       Anne heard the tone of approval in her husband's voice, and decided that it was right to enter this with an open mind. "Well, she has helped our dumpling to become more than I'd hoped for him. You notice how he spoke right up to you, honey?"
       "Yes, I did. It was all I could do before to get any reply out of him. Now he's speaking his mind, and quite well at that," Duncan said. Anne walked over to her boy and looked him close in the eyes, the way she'd always done when she wanted to be sure he was being honest. "Are you sure about this, Dale?" Dale locked eyes with her, and his voice was steady. "Mom, Dad, I'm absolutely certain it's the right thing to do. We've agreed to help each other, and respect each other's freedoms. We know we're both private-like, and we'll take things slow now and after we're married. Gadget's the greatest, and I'd feel lost without her. "
       Then Dale faced his fiancée, gently touching Gadget's chin with his hand and turned her to face him. She smiled, knowing why he was doing it and touched his face as they shared a kiss. Duncan couldn't help but smile himself, and Anne went over and put her arm around him as they watched. They traded looks, and waited for the two lovers to finish.
       "This is...well, it's highly unexpected," Duncan managed, still trying to let it all sink in. "I didn't think I'd ever say this, but it's evident that you've both made this decision together and thought about it. Son, we'll help you and Gadget however we can."
       Anne came over and hugged them both. "Oh, my little boy's grown up and he's getting married! Gadget, you are welcome in this house." Gadget hugged Anne in return. "Golly, thanks Anne. You won't regret it." Anne was still shaking her head over the amazement of it all. "You know, I think I won't…"
       Duncan came and hugged his son and Gadget in turn. Then he gave his attention to the ring on Gadget's finger for the first time. "Quite a sparkler there, son. How did you afford that?" Dale knew he had the kicker now, and grinned. "Remember all those comic books I used to have?" Duncan couldn't believe it. "You sold your comic book collection? The one you've been building since you were five?"
       "The one that you said you'd never sell to anyone for anything?" Anne added. Dale looked at the ring, then at the girl wearing it. "There was something worth it, I just hadn't met her yet." Anne looked on in further amazement, as did Duncan. Dale without his comic books?
       "A pearl of great price..." Anne whispered.
       Meanwhile, Duncan had taken Gadget's hand and now returned to inspecting the diamond cluster. Gadget was curiously surprised when he began flexing her wrist. "Good intramuscular development there. I bet you can give Dale a good run for his money fencing. Do you fence, my dear?" Gadget smiled as she understood the motivation for his actions. "Dale started teaching me recently, it's been a lot of fun! I'm getting pretty good."
       "Gadget, you must come and see my practice facilities. When I competed years ago, I found a private practice room essential. I don't know if Dale's been keeping up with his practicing, but I'd be glad to let you both work out here," Duncan said. Dale suddenly remembered another surprise for his parents. "I've been at it every day! Next time you two come over, you've got to see the setup I have, it's awesome!"
       "You have a practice room, son?" Duncan asked. Again, Dale had thrown him a curve. "But why didn't you show it to me any of the times I was over there? I'd have loved to have seen it."
       Dale looked at the floor, suddenly feeling the spotlight. His voice changed from the boldness he'd shown and became more timid. "I didn't want anyone to know about it. I didn't know what the others'd think about my secret place. I just wanted to have a place all my own where I could live my dreams out without anybody making fun of me."
       Anne put a protective hand on her son's arm. "Now Dale, you've always been a good boy. What did you really need to hide away for?" Dale kept his eyes firmly on his feet. "I guess I can tell you now. I've always felt I was a failure to everyone, even you two. Everyone said I was dumb, and after a while I began to believe it too. It was just easier to act dumb and silly and all than face my feelings. I didn't come by or call much...I didn't want you coming to HQ 'cause it'd remind you what a failure I was too you both."
       Duncan and Anne shared a troubled look, then Duncan came over close to his son. "Dale, you've never been a disappointment to us. You've filled our lives with laughter, and you've always seen the good side-even when neither of us thought you could. We knew that you had great potential, and I think perhaps your mother and I could have done a better job in encouraging you. But anything that you've really applied yourself to, you've succeeded at. You were a better fencer than I was after the first year's training."
       Anne was glad in a way this had come out. She'd felt the turmoil in Dale at times, but didn't know how her son would react to discussing it. "Dumpling, you've always thought of everyone else before yourself. It's meant a lot to me, in particular. I admit...when you started talking about marriage, I thought you were playing one of your games. Looking at you now, though, I can see a real difference in you. I'm happy for you, son, but I've always loved you."

       Dale's timidity left him and he looked up at both his parents and smiled. "You have no idea how glad I am to hear you both say that. I've always wanted the two of you to be proud of me. And with Gadget, I'm happier than I ever thought possible! Except now I'm even happier, now that I know my mom and dad have always cared about me, even when I was just a clumsy nobody."
       "Now that I won't have," Duncan said firmly. "Dale, you were never a nobody. And your skill with fencing certainly wasn't clumsy. If Gadget's been able to make you realize what you always were, then she's done the greatest thing that anyone can do for anyone else - make them realize their potential."
       Gadget blushed as Duncan shook her hand in thanks. "Golly, thanks. Dale's also helped me to see parts of myself that I kept hidden or never knew existed. It's been amazing, he's even teaching me how to paint!"
       **Another surprise,** Anne thought. "Paint? Honey, you never told us that you could paint! Are you a good painter?" Dale shrugged modestly. "Well, I'm okay at it..." Gadget poked him a little. "Okay? Dale, you're a great painter! Just wait till you see some of his work, it's excellent."
       Duncan had always felt that his son was somehow more than he'd shown them. Now he was glad to know he was proven right. "I look forward to it. Dale, you're taking on a very serious responsibility. Will you stick by Gadget no matter what?" Dale nodded. "I'm still gettin' used to being responsible and all, but even when I mess things up now I don't let it bother me like I did. And with Gadget helping, I've gotten lots better in that department."
       "If you don't count what happened with my automatic magnetic bolt retriever," Gadget added. Dale smiled apologetically. "I was jus' playing with it. I didn't know it couldn't handle that bucket full of bolts!" Gadget gave out a laugh. "It was almost worth it to see you with that bucket on your head, trying to put it back together!" Gadget hugged him. "Don't worry, Dale. I'm glad you owned up to it, and you did help me to fix it."
       Duncan was glad Dale had found someone willing to be patient with him, and that he was taking responsibility. "Well, now that we know you're getting married let us know some of the details! How soon, and do you need any help with plans?"

       Gadget and Dale sat down at their request, and Anne brought in some refreshments. "Well, Dale and I discussed the possibility of June 27th, thirty-nine days from now," Gadget began. "We're really close to Bianca Râboga of the R.A.S. She said she'd help us get everything ready for the wedding but we haven't told her about the date yet, so it won't be as big an event as if we'd waited. The reason for the date being so soon is that the 27th of June was my mom and dad's wedding day."
       "Oh, that's a nice thought dear," Anne said. Then she thought over the ramifications of it. "Thirty-nine days? That doesn't leave much time! I'll have to get started right away. We've got lots of people to call! I know everyone from the area will want to come, and then there's our friends and relatives too…"
       Dale smiled some at his mom's minor panic-attack. It was one of the things he'd always shared with her. "Well, we'll contact Bianca and have her get in touch with you. Actually, I'm kinda glad Gadget wanted to do this early. The longer I had to wait the more nervous I'd be!"
       Duncan slapped his son on the back. "That comes with all weddings, boy. I sure was nervous at mine. Don't worry, you'll live and from the look of things you'll be happy. That's all I could ask for you." Gadget had waited for things to calm down, but now she felt she had to speak her mind. "Mr. and Mrs. Oakmont, is it okay with you both that Dale will be marrying a mouse?" Anne looked to Duncan. He nodded, and Anne came over and took her hands. "I know you must have thought that we might not approve of someone who couldn't give Dale any children. But Duncan's right-you've done far more than a grandchild would mean for us. You've given our son happiness and contentment."
       Duncan put an arm around her shoulder and gave her a fatherly grin. "Besides, if you did want kids you could adopt. We want our son to marry a girl that's a good person, and good for him. Mouse or munk, that's not the important thing. We know you love him, and will be there for him."
       Anne looked over to Dale. "And we know that you're the kind that will do the right thing by her," Anne added. "Now your father took a while to learn how to behave." Dale blinked - this was news. "Really, mom?" Anne nodded. "Duncan always seemed to be in detention, but thankfully he grew out of it."
       Dale was taken aback by all this. "My dad was a troublemaker in school? The guy who coached the championship fencing team at Princeton? You're kidding, right?" Duncan took on an innocent look. "Well, I wouldn't go as far as to say troublemaker..." Anne crossed her arms. "What about the time you and Roger Maplewood set the chemistry lab on fire when you two tried to use one of the bunsen burners to power your model hot air balloon?" Duncan turned, smiling in slight embarrassment. "Hey, it was purely innocent! We did get an 'A' for ingenuity - well, once we cleaned up the lab."
       "And what about the time you two reversed the water flow in the plumbing and flooded the cafeteria? And the time you brought those big spiders to school for show and tell and they 'happened' to get loose? And the time..."
       Duncan put his hands together to call time-out. "Hold it, Anne! You'll have Gadget here thinking that her future father-in-law's not a nice guy." Dale aimed a thumb toward his father. "Gadget, you see where I got my...uh, creative side from." Gadget had laughed through most of this, but Duncan's sheepish look did let her know one thing - that's where Dale's charm came from. Gadget hugged Duncan kindly. "Don't worry, Mr. Oakmont. I can tell you've got the same cuteness as my Dale. Golly Dale, we'd better get going soon. We still need to see Bianca today, and we'll need to catch her before she leaves the UN!"
       Dale's thoughts snapped back to the present. "Yeah, I forgot! Well, mom and dad, it was great seeing you again. You'll be seeing me a lot more now..." Dale took a dramatic pose, "Now that I am grown up and getting married and all! You two should visit us at HQ soon. Well, we gotta run!"
       "We will come, dumpling. And make sure to let us know as soon as the arrangements are settled!" Anne said. Anne and Duncan went to the door, holding each other and watched as Gadget and Dale went to the RangerWing and lifted off. Anne smiled, and her ears shone. "Our boy...young man is quite something, isn't he Duncan?"
       "He sure is," Duncan said. "Now we'd better start checking our good clothes. Thirty-nine days will go by pretty fast!"

       The trip to the United Nations was quick, and Gadget led Dale along the twists and turns until they passed under the large R.A.S. sign. The secretary remembered Gadget from the last time she'd visited and personally led her and Dale to Bianca's office. They could hear her inside, taking in French with someone. In a few minutes, the door opened and the Algerian ambassador walked out. The secretary stepped inside to announce them, and Bianca came right out to meet them.
       "Gadget, dahling! Oh, I am so glad you have come by! We have much to discuss. And who is this fabulously handsome young man with you?" Bianca asked coyly. Dale looked over his shoulder to see whom Bianca was talking about.
       Gadget loved Dale's sweet innocence. "Bianca, you remember Dale Oakmont? He's the one I'm going to marry!" Dale's head swung back around. "Oh! You were talking to me!? Uh, hi there. Gadget said you were willing to help us get ready for the wedding, that's really swell of you."
       Bianca giggled and gave Dale a polite hug. "Oh, you are a sweet boy! You are a handsome young lad, you know." Gadget's eyes formed an apologetic look as her attention returned to the business at hand. "Uh Bianca, Dale and I have been discussing the possibility of having the wedding on June 27th instead of September 2nd. I know it's short notice, but do you think it's possible?"
       Bianca motioned for them to come inside and they all took seats. She pulled out a pair of narrow-lensed spectacles and checked a book on her desk. "Let me see..I have available dates for the florist, bakery, photographers, and of course the cathedral. It is the one vhere Princess Augustina was married last year, you know. I know the bishop down there, so I am sure we can arrange that. Yes, I think we can schwing it!"
       "That's great!" Gadget said, relieved that everything would still work out. "Uh, what kind of preparations do Dale and I need to make? Is there paperwork that we have to fill out?" Bianca began making notes. "Well, since you are moving up the date considerably you should go to the hall of records as soon as possible. You will need a copy of both your birth certificates and a blood test to acquire the marriage license. You should do that immediately, since they require you to have the license at least a month in advance now. It is too late today, but you should go there tomorrow."
       Then Bianca looked up at them, putting her spectacles away. "But tell me, Gadget, what brings on the change in plans? Are you both so anxious that you could not vait that long?" Gadget smiled and shook her head. "Well, June 27th was my mom and dad's wedding anniversary and since they're gone, this way it allows me to remember and honor them on my wedding day."

       Bianca was unprepared for this reply, and she dropped the pen she'd been holding. She was a sensitive soul, particularly where Gadget was concerned. Her eyes began to fill with tears and she quickly came around and hugged Gadget, still crying.
       "Golly, I'm sorry, Bianca," Gadget said, not expecting this reaction at all. Bianca raided the tissue box on her desk and dried her eyes. "Oh, pardon my tears, dahling. It's just that you are a like a daughter to me in some ways and like the emotional mother I cry on the drop of a hairpin. Oh, I am so happy for you, my dear!"
       Gadget felt tears form in her own eyes at the idea of having someone like Bianca for a mom. She hugged her neck and whispered, "Thanks, mom." Bianca patted her back, and then she realized that Dale had been left out. She came over and kissed his cheek and hugged him too. "You must be a very special person, Dale, to have gained the love of this extra-special girl. You will do me the honor of allowing me to be hostess to you both from time to time?" Bianca asked.
       "Sure! That'd be swell," Dale said. "And you gotta visit us at HQ now and then!"
       Bianca was very agreeable to that idea, and her entire demeanor showed her enthusiasm. "I will be sure to come, Dale. And I vill bring Mr. Bernard along too, if he is free." Dale looked at the clock and realized the day was already getting away from them. "Man, we gotta get our invitations out in a hurry and get everyone together. Oh, can you get in touch with my Aunt Agnes? She works for the R.A.S. sometimes."
       "Agnes Oakmont? Yes, I remember her," Bianca said. "She wrote a series of articles about Bernard and myself for the International Mouse-O-Graphic. I vill check around and see if I can locate her for you."
       "Thanks, she's a tough one to get a hold of, always off someplace or other," Dale said. "We'd better get going, ma'am. It's already been a long day." Bianca saw them to the door and hugged them both one more time.
       "Now be sure to tell me if any problems come up. I just know this wedding will be the talk of the town for the rest of the year!" Bianca cooed. Dale still didn't feel comfortable with the idea of all those eyes on him. "I guess a small wedding with only close friends and family is out of the question?" Bianca patted his face. "Now don't you worry, dahling. Only the most influential people in town will be there, and after all this is an occasion to celebrate! The more the merrier, I always say. Now run along, and I vill see to everything."
       Gadget was so grateful to have a friend like Bianca. She'd have been lost trying to do the preparations on her own. "Well, thanks Bianca! You're really a great friend! I hope one day we can repay all your kindness."
       "Yeah, you sure are great!" Dale added.
       Bianca blushed slightly and gave a soft laugh. "Don't think twice about it, you two. It is the least I can do." Bianca saw them out, then shut the door behind her just in time to hide the change in her face. "Oh dear, I had not thought about that. This is dreadful. If anything should happen to allow them to find out..."



Chapter 2 - Fun and Memories/Two Chipmunks, Two Problems

       At the beach, Chip and Foxy were out among the sand worshippers. Chip had always liked the beach, but had found himself avoiding it for some time. Now, he was glad to come and watched as Foxy flew around over the breaking tides. He spread out a blanket, and sat down next to the guitar he'd brought. Chip had learned to play both it and the piano early on, and now his heart had music in it again. Foxy flew down to Chip and hugged him. They had already been parasailing - well, Chip had anyway - and now they were taking a breather and listening to the waves lapping the shore.
       "Chip, you're flying almost as well as I do! You should have been a bat," she said, giving him the highest compliment she could think of. Chip dusted the sand off his swim trunks, and came back over to the blanket. "It sure would make getting around easier. I'm still amazed at how you can turn on a dime like that in the air and do those acrobatics!"
       Foxy knelt down next to him and wrapped her wings around Chip. She was wearing a one-piece pink swimsuit that contrasted well with her fur. "Well cutie, it helps having built-in wings. Thanks for taking me to the beach, Chip. I love to listen to the sound of the surf, it's so soothing." She put an ear to his chest. "Soothing, like the beating of a heart."

       Chip was still getting used to Foxglove's spurts of forwardness, even after all this time. He felt a bit self-conscious at first with this happening in public and looked around but no one really cared. Chip let a small smile through, and held her. "Foxy, I can't begin to thank you enough for all you've done. I'm glad you helped me to see things straight again. Now, what can I do to repay all that kindness?"
       Foxy looked deep into his eyes. "You could spend the rest of your life repaying me, cutie." Chip blinked, and blinked again. "You...you're asking me to marry you? But I thought you wanted to wait a while, until we'd had a chance to get used to life this way."
       Foxy looked away from Chip at first, then back up at him apologetically. "It's cruel to make you wait any longer, Chip. I love you and I want to be with you forever. I never want us to be apart. I couldn't live without you, you're my reason for being-you are my life."
       Chip blushed at Foxy baring her soul to him like this, but at the same time it bothered him. Why had she decided to ask for marriage now all of a sudden? "Foxy, I'm really touched and flattered. But what about your family, and your wish to find them? I couldn't get in the way of that."
       "I'm tired of pain and loss. I've already lost them, and if I delay our happiness maybe I'll lose you too. They've been gone so long, they've either forgotten me or never missed me anyway. I want to be happy…happy with you," Foxy said.

       Chip looked at the near-desperation in her face and for the first time realized how deep her connection to him went. Foxy had poured so much of herself into making him happy that now she'd given up on everything else. Chip chastised himself on the inside for allowing her to get this way. "Foxy, I'm not going anywhere. I love you, and I want to marry you. Above anyone else, you've been patient with me and helped me to find myself. I couldn't deny you what you've sacrificed so much to give to me. Please, let me help you complete your life and find your folks. I wouldn't feel right otherwise."
       Foxy looked at him timidly. "What if we do find them...and they don't want me again?" Chip knew she was afraid, but he couldn't let her give in to it. "Foxy, we don't even know that they didn't want you in the first place! You could've been captured and taken from them, or them from you. There's no way to know until we find out. But don't you at least owe them that chance, to see if they love you?"
       Foxy grabbed him with a dejected look and closed her eyes as she laid her face against his chest. "I just don't want to be rejected anymore. I found you and the Rangers, I'm afraid to risk anything else." Chip was in a quandary. On one side, he definitely loved the girl who had her wings around him. On the other, he knew she was selling her life short, and he could never be happy knowing that. Chip reached down and tilted her head up from the spot where she'd buried it into his chest fur.
       "All right, we'll let it rest for now. Frankly, I wasn't expecting you to ask me to marry you, or for this to come up this quick. I'm going to need some time to think about this, Foxy. I'll let you know my answer once Dale and Gadget's wedding is over," Chip said. Foxy didn't dare hope, but gave a peek into his eyes anyway. "Do you think we can find them, or are you just trying to make me feel better?" Chip stroked her head fur. "If they're alive, I'll find them for you. I promise you, with all my heart." Foxy giggled, and hugged him. "Can I pick Mr. Right or what?"
       Foxy played with the corner of the beach blanket, trying to think of more to say. "I'm glad you like to hear me sing. Am I really a good singer, Chip?" Foxy asked. Chip reached for the guitar and picked it up. "Yes, your voice is wonderful. With practice you could be a star if you wanted," Chip said. Foxy looked at him, disbelieving. "A star? Ooh, I don't know about that, Chip. I just like to sing some, but I admit I like it. Why don't you play something I can sing to?" Chip strummed the metal strings. "I take requests, any favorites?"
       "Oh, play the pretty song we heard yesterday in the park! The one about 'raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens,'" Foxy said. Chip checked his fingering and grinned, "That song's one of my favorite things!"
       Chip started up the melody, and Foxglove began to sing along. Soon, they'd attracted a small crowd who applauded nicely when they ended. The duo went through two more songs, and the crowd got even larger. Foxy began to get nervous, so Chip thanked everyone and escorted her on down the beach.
       "See? They enjoyed our musical interlude," Chip said. Foxy clung to him nervously. "Well, I guess so. I've never done anything like that before, but it was sort of nice hearing the applause. Wait, don't singers have to write their own music, Chip? I wouldn't even know where to begin!"
       "They don't always write it, but I could help you with that. I have a very musical background. My grandfather was a conductor and he taught me a lot about music and song, and songwriting." Foxy had never heard him speak of this person before and it sparked her curiosity. "Really?! How did he learn about music driving a train?"
       Chip stifled a chuckle. "A conductor's also what they call someone who leads an orchestra." Foxy blushed a little. "Oh, okay. I just don't know much about music. Can you teach me soon? I'd like to learn all I can."
       "It would be my pleasure, Foxy," Chip said. "My music's gotten rusty from neglect over the years. It'll be nice to be playing again, so we can make beautiful music together." Foxy hugged Chip and kissed his cheek. "Oh, I can't wait! I never dreamed that one day I'd be able to write songs as well as sing them!" Chip felt Foxy's presence on his arm, and knew he was glad she was there. Still, what she'd said was troubling him. **I can't let her rob herself of her family. I've just got to find a way to convince her of what's right.**       

       The couple made their way off the sand and were home soon enough. Supper was good, if predictable. Dale and Gadget took center stage at the table and caught everyone up on their experiences. "Sorry about the short notice everyone. I hope you guys don't mind the wedding being so soon," Gadget said.
       "Oh, we understand," Foxy said. "It's to celebrate your parents, so you shouldn't feel bad about that. I just wish I knew who my parents were." Chip steadied Foxy, and looked over at Gadget with understanding. "We know it means a lot to you...both of you. Don't worry about it." Monty grinned, trying to bring the atmosphere back to a pleasant tone. "Too roight! It's fine whenever it happens, right Zip?" Zipper nodded and winked, "As long as I'm there for the food line, it's fine with me!"
       Dale began looking over a list Bianca had given Gadget. "We guys gotta get fitted for tuxes and you gals have gotta have gowns. Wow, it's gonna be a busy month."
       "We'll live, mate," Monty said. "Have you two been to see about the license and all yet? Gotta do that pretty soon, if I remember right..." Gadget looked up from checking a list of her own. "We're going to start tonight. I have all my stuff from the plane still in boxes when I moved in here. My birth certificate's somewhere in all my family paperwork. Dale offered to help me go through it all."
       Monty nodded. "Sounds like a plan. If ya need any help, ol' Monterey Jack's yer mouse!" Gadget checked off a few items with her mechanical pencil. "Golly, thanks Monty, but I think we can handle it." Then Zipper cleared his throat, and still found happiness in the fact he could now do that. "I know it's a bit forward to ask, but will you be inviting Honey?"
       "Sure! Do you think she'll come?" Gadget asked.
       "Yeah, I think she'd like it. I hope her royal calendar's free that day," Zipper mused.

       Dale had said nothing for a minute because he had a thought running through his head while Zipper was speaking. Suddenly he sprung up and snapped his fingers, grinning widely. "Hey, have you guys noticed something? No one's mentioned it, but Zipper's voice sounds like someone else. Someone famous, I think...I just can't seem to put my finger on it..."
       Chip thought a moment then realized who Dale was speaking of, but he kept quiet. He didn't want to rob Dale's moment. "Who is that, Dale?" Dale thought more, then grinned happily as he flared his fingers out in emphasis as he shouted, "Oh wait, I think I know!" Dale ran around the table to where Zipper was sitting and leaned over toward his ear. "Zipper, say this..." Dale whispered something quickly in the fly's ear. Zipper looked at him strangely and said, "Careful, bucko?"
       "That's it! Ha ha, that's it!" Dale said in triumph. "Richie Cunningham! I knew you sounded like someone!" Zipper had seen "Happy Days" many years back, but as he was still getting used to his new voice he hadn't thought about who he sounded like. "I sound like Richie Cunningham?! Well, I suppose it could be worse..."
       "Richie...you know you're right, Dale?" Chip said. "I'd almost forgotten about that show. Wow, does that bring back some memories." Dale had the floor now, since television was still one of his favorite topics. "Yeah, I loved that show. I liked Pat Morita as Al, rather than the other guy with the big nose." Then Dale sighed and let his eyes defocus. "Yeah, the shows back then were a lot more fun. Saturday morning cartoons when we were kids was the best...the golden age."
       Gadget did like cartoons, but before now she'd never have admitted it. Now she realized it was one of the ways she'd changed. "Gosh, I hadn't thought about those old shows in years. I can remember waking up dad and we'd watch them together all morning long. I got some of my best early ideas off shows like 'Land of the Lost'. Dad used to always have to check for Sleestacks in my closet."
       "'Land of the Lost' was my favorite!" Dale said. "I always wanted to ride that neat little dinosaur!"
       "Oh, and don't forget the cartoons!" Chip added. "'Laff-A-Lympics' was so...uh, well I used to watch it every now and again." Dale gave Chip a knowing glance, since he knew that Chip loved that show and had watched it every saturday morning.
       "Okay, okay," Chip said. "I confess, I used to watch them all. I know that I always tell everyone that Sureluck Jones was the reason I got into detective work, but the time has come where the truth can be told. Before Sureluck Jones...there was Scooby Doo and company. They were my first crime fighting heroes."
       Dale beamed with glee. "Really, Rip?" Chip ignored the Scooby imitation and continued. "I lived for the day when I could hear someone say, 'I would've gotten away with if it hadn't been for that meddling chipmunk.'"
       "Well, ya never know where inspiration's gonna come, lad," Monty said. "Things were a soight simpler in those days o' television. 'Course, I didn't get around a tube much at all with my adventurin'."
       Foxy felt a little out of place in the conversation. "I didn't have a television growing up, but I did look at the ones in the shops whenever I could."
       "Well, we watched for various reasons," Dale said. "Chip and I slept over at each other's houses a lot. Our families were so close, our parents were pretty much interchangeable. As soon as cartoons were over, Chip would drag me away from 'Soul Train' and we'd go play outside."
       Gadget sympathized with her bat friend's sense of being deprived, but nothing could keep her sad for long. "Golly, I guess we've all had our own ways of growing up, but it was a nice time. I always wanted to be the conductor on Conjunction Junction. He got to play with those neat railroad cars. I loved Speed Racer, though. I always wanted to build a car like that."

       Chip was enjoying this walk through yesteryear. He hadn't thought of some of these things in a long time. "I remember that one, Gadget - I never could figure out why their mouths didn't match up with the words. I also remember 'Schoolhouse Rock', too. I loved the one about Elbow Room because they got to go exploring in it. That song's still in my brain."
       Foxy opened her mouth in remembrance, glad she had something to say. "Oh, I did see some of those! I liked the music." Foxy immediately started to hum the tune.
       "Hey, I learned about the Revolutionary War from 'Schoolhouse Rock'! 'The shot heard 'round the world was the start of the revolution!'" Dale chimed in. Gadget remembered the song too. "Well, I guess that stuff does sort of stick with you. It's good to know that all we've been though hasn't changed what's inside and what we all value." Dale sighed a little at that. "But it's sad that we had to change as much as we did. I put off growing up as long as possible, but still it was kinda sad to finally let go of childhood. It's sorta like a safety net."
       Chip patted his old friend on the back. "Well in some ways. But in others it kept you from enjoying the here and now. There are no 'good old days' - life being good or bad just depends on how you choose to see it. Now that I'm seeing clearly, I choose to see the good side of things. And from where I'm looking, we're one great group of friends."
       Dale smiled again, glad that Chip was his friend again. "Yeah, we are. We've all faced death together, fought side by side against the forces of darkness, helped each other, annoyed each other, shared tears, shared laughter and always come out on top...our lives would make a great TV show!"
       Gadget had thought she'd heard her share of kooky ideas from Dale, but this was a new one. "Now seriously, Dale, who would want to watch a television show about two chipmunks, two mice, a bat and a fly? Besides, only animals are aware that we exist-well, if you don't count Professor Nimnul-and we have no idea how many of those there are."
       "We're known all over," Zipper countered. "We've been on every continent. Next to the R.A.S. we're the most famous animal/insect crime fighting group."
       "He has a point there, but I'd rather fight crime than pretend for a camera," Chip said. "Maybe if we're lucky they'll make a movie based on us someday. Well, it's getting late and we've got a busy day tomorrow. Thanks for the walk down memory lane, everybody!"
       "Yeah, that was fun. Now I wanna watch all those old shows again! Come back, Fat Albert, come back!" Dale said, his voice full of his personal laughter.
       Chip and Dale headed for their room, still talking about old times and old shows. When they got settled in, Chip spoke up again. "Dale, I think now that you're taking more responsibility it's time that we reconsider your role in the Rangers. You're certainly more capable than you've shown in the past. I should have guessed you were, but I was preoccupied."
       This surprised Dale, but then again he was learning that Chip could be surprising. "What do you have in mind, Chip? I can do stuff a little better than I could before, now that I've got more confidence in what I'm doing. I can't think of what I can really add to the group though besides moral support."
       Chip settled in, and let his mind wander. "You've got a creative mind, and it's time you started applying it to our cases. Bring some more of Double-O-Dale out into the open. I know you don't like the stress of leadership, so I wouldn't ask you to do that. But now that we're friends again, I was thinking more along the lines of teamwork with you and me."
       Dale leaped up and pulled Chip out of bed with enthusiasm. He put an arm over Chip's shoulder and pulled him close. "I can see it now, Chip and Dale, wonder team! I could be your brave sidekick, Dale-lad!" Chip still had to remind himself to restrain himself at times like this. After all, it was just Dale's way of getting into the act. "Well, that's the spirit of the idea anyway. I was thinking more along the lines of Woody and Buzz from Toy Story 2. And like them, we'll be friends…to infinity and beyond."
       Dale looked at Chip with surprise - it had been a long, long time since Chip had reflected on their friendship like this. "Chip, I would be honored to call you my friend, for infinity and beyond." Chip and Dale locked hands, thumb to thumb. "And I'll be honored to be your best man, if you'll have me," Chip said. Dale nodded and smiled. "There isn't anyone other than you I'd want. Except maybe Scott from 'Sigmund and the Sea Monsters'. Boy, I'm glad we all still remember those shows. Kids today would have no idea what we we're talking about. Poor things, they sure missed out."

       They both laughed over the little joke and went to bed. The next morning, Dale was up and dressed in a hurry. He knew it was a big day, because it was the start of the wedding preparations. After scarfing down breakfast, Dale found Gadget already beginning to sift through her personal papers. Dale gave Gadget a gentle top-of-the-morning kiss on the cheek.
       "Good morning, Gadget. How's the search going?" Dale asked. Gadget had several piles of various-sized papers around her, with several disorderly papers sticking out at odd angles. "Golly, I haven't looked at some of these things in years! Here's dad's old flight school diploma, and the newspaper article about his winning the Pan-Europa air race. I guess dad tended to keep everything, too. My birth certificate should have everything on it, but my donor card here's got my blood type in case it's not there."
       Dale looked at the card as she handed it to him then put it down away from the other things while Gadget carefully sorted the papers and spent some time looking one over every now and again. She'd made a separate pile for Dale and he began going through the papers. He stopped when he found a picture of Gadget when she was a baby, and his face beamed with glee.
       "Wow, you were the cutest baby I ever saw!" Dale exclaimed. Gadget jerked her head up, and immediately began walking around the table. "Oh, dad would leave that in there! Give that to me." Dale chuckled and handed it over. Gadget took a look at the picture and let out an exasperated laugh. "I look like a Cabbage Patch doll or something in that!" Dale smiled the more. "What's wrong with that? I bet Gadget Hackwrench dolls would sell like crazy!"
       **Where does he get these ideas?** "Dale, who would want to buy a doll of a girl mouse, well besides other girl mice? You sure do get strange ideas in your head at times. But I have to admit, I still like the color of the clothes," Gadget said.
       "Lavender suits you, it matches your...uh, okay it doesn't match anything, but is sure does suit you. Okay, enough romantic banter my good woman, we have work to do!" Dale said, with relish. Gadget raised an eyebrow at him. "You're cruising for a tickling, 'my good man'. Let's get through that pile. We've only got about 164,000 seconds left to find it before the deadline!"
       "Gosh! Is the deadline that soon?!" Dale started looking through the papers faster. Exactly 102 seconds later Dale found what he was looking for - Gadget's birth certificate. "Here we go! Name: Gadget Hackwrench. Born: April 5th. Parents: Geegaw and Laura Hackwrench. Height, size, weight...."
       Dale noticed that Laura and Geegaw's birth certificates were also in the same pile. "Even your mom and dad's are here too." Gadget took her certificate and looked it over. "Well, dad did tend to keep everything. He was really sentimental like that."
       Dale glanced at the birth certificates of Gadget's parents, wishing he'd had the chance to meet them and thank them for raising such a wonderful daughter. As he looked over their papers, warning bells began sounding in his mind. Dale looked over them again, trying to find what it was that had prompted that reaction.
       **My spider sense is tingling, but why?**
       Then it hit him - an old episode of NBC's "Unsolved Mysteries" ran through his mind. In it, a fact was mentioned in a child custody case that a child's blood type could only be one of a few depending on what types the parents' were. Dale looked again at the birth certificates. Geegaw had B+ blood and Laura had B-. Gadget's birth certificate had her down as the same blood type as Laura, but then he remembered the donor card. It said Gadget had AB- blood. That didn't seem right, and Dale didn't know what to make of it. He looked up, and Gadget was still cataloguing the papers on her side.
       "Gosh, most of these things I don't even remember," Gadget asked. "All this looking's got me hungry. I think I'll go see if Monty's getting something ready." Gadget closed the box and left the room, leaving Dale free. He double-checked the blood types on all the birth certificates again and the donor card she left on the workbench. It told where she gave the blood, and Dale headed to the phone. As he reached for the receiver, his hand was noticeably shaking. He dialed a number and waited.

       "Westside Clinic, Doctor Batorious speaking."
       Dale tried to keep from talking too loud. "Doc, sorry to bug you, but I got a real important question I gotta ask, and I also gotta ask you to keep quiet about my asking this question. Do you promise?" The line was silent for a few moments, then the doc answered. "This is a private matter, I take it? And one wherein you do not wish me to know who you are. As long as the answer does not compromise me, I promise."
       "No, I'm Dale of the Rescue Rangers, doc. That's not what I meant. What I meant was, you gotta promise not to tell anyone else that I'm asking you about this question because it could all be nothing, understand?" The bat's voice immediately became much more genial. "Ah, Dale. Very well, then. Ask your question." Dale took a deep breath and started in. "Dr. Batorious, can parents with B+ and B- blood produce a child with AB- blood?"
       "No, that would not be possible. A child with AB- blood would require one parent with type B and one with either type A or AB. Is that the answer you were looking for?" Doctor Batorious asked. Dale frowned and paused a moment, then replied in his regular voice. "Zowie, I guess I've got a problem and no idea what I should do about it. Thanks, doc. Oh! One other thing. Can the information on a donor card ever be wrong?"
       "Well, it hardly sounds like a situation where thanks are involved, but glad I could be of help. As for a donor card, they are normally filled out when the patient gives blood, so the odds of an error are very low. Goodbye now, Dale," the doc said, hanging up the phone. Dale put the receiver down and was instantly lost in thought. **The problem isn't really mine either, but it involves someone else...wow, I guess Gadget's really starting to rub off on me.**
       Dale knew he couldn't tell Gadget about this, and he didn't want to go to any of the others until he was sure. After all, it might be nothing. So, Dale decided to go on to lunch. It seemed to go by in seconds and then he was sitting on the sofa in the main room, left with the problem again. Were the birth records right? Was the donor card right? And if one wasn't, what would it mean for Gadget, not to mention their relationship? Dale was pondering these questions in the main room when Gadget sat down and hugged him.
       "I noticed you seemed a little preoccupied at lunch. Is anything wrong?" Gadget asked sweetly. "Is it the wedding, Dale? I hope I'm not pushing you on this..." Dale could at least sincerely answer that question. "No, nothing like that. The future in general's making me a little nervous. Life has a way of throwing surprises at you when you least expect them."
       Gadget took Dale's hand and they returned to her workshop, where she started putting some of the other papers up. "Jeepers, I know about that feeling of surprise. It's kind of spooky not knowing just how things are gonna go, but at least we've got each other. That's a lot more than most people have."
       Dale hugged Gadget, hoping to stifle the mounting fear in himself. "Just remember, Gadget, I'll love you no matter what." Gadget went on with her work, oblivious to the meaning of the inflection in Dale's voice. "Same here, Dale. Nothing can change the love I have for you. Well, if you've got your birth certificate handy, I guess it's time to go get that license."
       "Yeah, my birth certificate's in my room. Be back in a sec," Dale said. Dale rushed into his room and found Chip lying on his bed reading his Sureluck Jones book on his portable stand. "Chip, I may need your help soon, but don't ask me about what it is yet. I don't know if I need it yet." Chip looked up from his book, not sure what Dale meant by that. "Uh, sure. Anything you need…" Dale shook his hand briskly. "Thanks, Chip. You're a real pal." Dale grabbed his birth certificate and rushed out of the room as Chip shrugged and went back to his reading.

       Gadget and Dale went to the hall of records, and got to experience first-hand the monotonously slow wheels of bureaucracy. They had to wait their turn, and fill out a battery of forms in triplicate. But they both agreed it was worth it when they returned to headquarters with the license in hand.
       "Golly, it's a good thing that marriage only normally happens once. I couldn't imagine going through all that again!" Gadget said as she sat down in relief on the sofa. Dale sat down beside her. "Yeah, the paperwork alone'd take years! Now that we got all this taken care of, why don't you relax and let me clean up the mess we made and get all your stuff put away?"
       Gadget was surprised and touched at the same time that Dale would volunteer for such a job. "Well, that would be nice, actually. I sure am tired tonight - guess all that searching wore me out. Sure you don't mind?" Dale got up, and Gadget did too. "Not at all, kick back and take the rest of the evening off. Dinner'll be soon."
       Gadget decided she would relax, and didn't feel a bit guilty about it. "Sounds fine to me. It's nice having such a thoughtful husband-to-be around. Are you sure you don't want those urkburgles?" Dale winked at her, then Gadget gave him a kiss and settled back down on the sofa.
       Dale hurried into the workshop and began sifting through the pile of papers where he had found the birth certificates. Eventually he found several copies of hospital release forms, showing the date and cost of Laura Hackwrench's delivery of Gadget. Dale looked over the records and saw that the physician that handled the delivery and signed the birth certificate was a Dr. Mavel.
       "Maybe I should talk to this guy. I'm sure that this is all just a big typo or something. Just my imagination getting carried away," Dale said, not nearly convincing himself.
       Dale was about to pick up the phone book and attempt to find Dr. Mavel, when he stopped in his tracks. He would likely need more conclusive evidence to get any action on this problem, and it would be nice to be leadpipe certain before contacting anyone else. Dale left the problem until late after supper when he was alone again, then he began to think. How could he be certain?
       "I've got to find a way that doesn't let Gadget know."

       Then Dale turned his attention back to the late late late show he was watching, The Lawyer That Ate Cleveland. It was typical late-night fare, but Dale's interest grew when the lead actor as lawyer Ben Mason began making a case against a murder suspect. It appeared that the man in question was going to walk away free, and had even started to step down from the witness stand when in a dramatic turn the lawyer pointed to him and brought everyone's attention to a DNA report that showed the suspect's hair had been found on the victim's body and the victim's blood was found on his clothes.
       Dale had a moment of perfect clarity - something strange for this chipmunk, but nonetheless he knew it was the thing to do. A DNA test could end this whole misunderstanding. But where to get DNA from the late Mr. and Mrs. Hackwrench? He recalled that Gadget had said that her father saved everything and it seemed to be the case from the boxes of her parents' things that Gadget had saved. Perhaps there was a slight chance that there might be some DNA evidence of the Hackwrenches left amongst their belongings. Dale turned off the TV and dashed back to the storeroom.
       "DNA, that's it! I won't find any of Geegaw or Laura's blood, though. Hold on, maybe their hair would still be there...." Dale had spent several minutes again searching through the possessions of the late Hackwrenches, finally finding a lock of hair from each, enclosed in very touching love letters.
       "I'm really sorry about having to do this, Mr. and Mrs. Hackwrench, but I gotta know what's going on. If Gadget isn't really your true daughter, why the deception and why did you take the secret to the grave?"
       Dale packaged a follicle from each lock in separate containers, making sure he knew whose was whose. Then he put everything away like it was and went to Gadget's workshop. It was no problem finding a strand of her blonde hair in there, and this he also put in a separate container. "In some ways, I hope I'm wrong, Gadget. It'd be a whole lot easier if I was. But now at least, we'll know for certain."

       The next morning, Dale made an excuse and headed for New York University. Sparky had returned to New York from M.I.T. and was now the head lab rat at N.Y.U.'s health department. Dale found him alone, huddled over an experiment of some kind. Dale almost tapped Sparky on the shoulder, but remembered in time what happened the last time he shook hands with the rat. Dale cleared his throat instead.
       "Hello, Sparky!" Dale said cheerfully. Sparky bonked his head on the microscope he was using when he jumped at Dale's sudden greeting. "Oh, hello Dale! Good to see you. Did you come down to look through the microscopes again?"
       "No, this time I'm here on sorta official non-official Ranger business. I need some DNA testing done," Dale replied, trying to sound all-business. Sparky gave Dale his full attention now, such as it was. "DNA? Deoxyribonucleic acid? If you're not on a case, then what's the test for? Is it something personal?" Dale looked uncomfortable, and was. "Well, I'm doing it for a friend that doesn't know I'm doing it for them."
       Dale held up three small plastic containers, labeled father, mother and daughter. "I need to know if this woman is the true child of these two parents." Sparky took the containers, not totally liking the clandestine idea of it. "Well, all right then. When do you need the analysis done?"
       "ASAP," Dale said boldly.
       "I guess I could start on it now. It's going to take anywhere from three to five days, though. Will you check back with me, or should I come to your place when I know?" Sparky asked. Dale certainly didn't want anyone else knowing. Even the idea that Sparky could mess up gave him the chills. "Just call me."
       "Call you about what?" Sparky asked.
       "About the DNA test," Dale said. Sparky looked at Dale, and then at the containers. "I'm doing a DNA test? Oh, then I'd better call you when it's done. It'll be three to five days, though."
       Dale knew it wasn't Sparky's fault, so why berate him? "Yes, thanks Sparky. You're a real pal." Dale shook his hand, got shocked, and Sparky helped him up. "Oh, sorry about that. I just got my morning jolt in. Say, would you say hello to Gadget for me? She's really got a mind for science."
       "Yeah, that she does. Did you know that she and I are getting married?! You'll be getting an invitation in the mail soon," Dale said.
       "You're getting married? That's wonderful! Who did you say you were marrying, again?" Sparky asked. Dale was thinking of bring a portable chalkboard with him next time. "Gadget. I'm marrying Gadget." Sparky was overjoyed. "Oh, then I'll be sure to come! You will send me an invitation, won't you?" Dale nodded. "Yes, Sparky. You'll get one in the mail."
       "Good. Well, thanks for dropping by and I'll call you as soon as the results are in," the lab rat said. Dale was about to shake his hand again, but remembered this time. "Thanks, I really appreciate this. Gotta go!"
       Dale rushed from the room before Sparky could say another word. After he was outside, he took a deep breath. "Nothing to worry about. I'm getting all excited over nothing. I better head back, there's tons of stuff for the wedding that needs to get done." Back in the lab, Sparky scratched his head, which created a small arc of electricity between his finger and head. "He sure was acting strange, like random molecules. Well, guess I'd better get on with it..."



Chapter 3 - Munks On a Mission

       Dale returned to Ranger headquarters just as the other Rangers were returning from the police station. "Howdy, gang! Anything interesting in the world of crime today?" Monty turned a bored eye his way. "Not so much as a pin drop, mate. I think that Fat Cat must be plottin' something roight huge, because that nasty tabby ain't raised a whisker in weeks!" Zipper lighted beside his Aussie friend. "Weeks? Seems like months! Maybe he's gone into another line of work."
       Gadget ran up and hugged Dale. "Glad you're back. Are you done with that little chore of yours you mentioned? We need to make a few decisions to help Bianca with the plans." Dale nodded and saluted. "I'm all ears, what does she need to know? Do we want the minister to look like the young Elvis or the old Elvis?"
       Gadget chuckled and threw a pillow off the sofa at him as they sat down. "No silly, she just needs an idea of how many people we're inviting and a list of names as soon as possible. Do you know how many guests your mom and dad are likely to invite?"
       "Not off-hand. I'll call them later and ask," Dale said. "We don't have a big family, probably more friends than actual family'll come. I'd say about twenty." Gadget wrote down the figure. "Okay, that helps. We're looking at about that many more among Bianca's friends and fellow socialites. Looks like about a hundred people so far. Golly, I'm glad Bianca's handling this and not us."
       Dale took a peek over at Gadget's list. "We gotta get fitted for outfits yet. Have you decided on who's going to be maid of honor and bridesmaids?" Gadget pulled out a planner that Bianca had given her to help organize her own thoughts. "Bianca's got us scheduled for fittings next week. I'm not sure about the maid of honor. I know that Foxy will in the group, and Honey if she's available. Maybe I should let Bianca do it, and be matron of honor - I do feel close to her, and it would be a way to thank her for all this work she's doing for us."
       Dale started counting off on his fingers. "Let's see, Chip is my best man, Monty and Zipper are groomsmen...say, I'm one guy short! I gotta think of someone else. Maybe I should ask my dad...no, then mom'd be sitting by herself the whole ceremony. Okay, I gotta work on that."
       Gadget put the planner down along with the list. "We really don't know all that many people, do we? It's strange in a way, because we meet so many different ones out there on cases. We've all maintained a pretty tight circle." Dale was still pondering his own problem, thinking out loud. "I don't know Tammy's boyfriend Rob well enough to ask him. I don't think that Sparky could stay focused enough for the job…"
       "Well, there are Cheddarhead Charlie and Camembert Kate, if we can get in contact with them," Gadget offered. "Maybe Monty would have an idea where they'd be. It would be nice to have all the parents here, and then you'd have your groomsman too."
       Dale leaned over and put his face in the line of sight of Monty's vision. "Sounds good to me. Monty's mom and dad'll keep things from getting boring. That okay with you, Monty?" Monty looked over from eating a hot cheese-filled snack that was running everywhere. "Sure thing, pally! I think dad and ma were headed fer the llama roundup in South America last I 'eard. They usually take a vacation 'round this time o' year, so they probably won't mind coming up to visit."

       Chip walked in, catching the end of the conversation. "We'll also need extra security, so that we don't have any 'surprises' from certain acquaintances of ours that we didn't send invitations too." Gadget hadn't given that any thought, and Chip's reminder was a wake-up call. "Golly, that's right! We do have a few enemies. There's Fat Cat and his gang, Nimnul, Rat Capone, and a slew of others we've tangled with. I'd better speak to Bianca about bringing a few of the agents in from the R.A.S. or even their secret agent group the R.A.S.C.A.L.S."
       Dale smiled mischievously. "I suppose we oughta send the bad guys prints of the wedding pictures so they don't feel so left out." Zipper caught the sarcasm in Dale's voice and added to it. "Yeah, we could even draw bullseyes on them so they'd be convenient for their dartboards!" Dale nudged his fly friend at that comment. "I guess we shouldn't send them any wedding cake or bother telling them where we're registered, then!"
       Monty stretched and stood up. "Well, I've gotta admit I wouldn't mind a little punch-up but even I'm not that keen on one. It's been roight quiet for a while now and ol' Monterey Jack needs to keep in fightin' trim.
      Monty gave his midsection a critical look. "Guess I am puttin' on a few extra ounces. Moight be time ta start dietin' again." All the others stopped whatever they were doing instantly, remembering the last time he did that. Dale ran up to Monty, shaking his head emphatically. "No, we don't need to diet again! We're all fit as fiddles, in fact we're an entire string section!"
       Monty patted his stomach. "Too roight. Well, a little exercise might do me some good though. Don't worry, mates - I still remember the last time. I'll jest add on an extra dock or two to me normal warehouse run." The others all sighed with collective relief, then Gadget turned to Chip who had just been joined in the room by Foxglove.
       "Chip, are your parents coming too?" Gadget asked. Chip hesitated a moment, but answered in the affirmative. "Don't worry, Gadget. I'm positive mom and dad will want to be there for the wedding." Zipper suddenly remembered something, and got Gadget's attention. "Oh, you asked about Honey. I'm going over there today, so I should have an answer for you this evening. Do I really sound like Richie Cunningham?"
       Dale winked at his friend. "Think of it as sounding like the amazingly talented director Ron Howard." Zipper smirked at the idea. "Oh, that does sound better. Wish I had the kind of money he brings in, though. Guess I'd better get flying!" Zipper buzzed out the door, heading for Honey's place. Gadget put down her checklist.
       "Whew! I'm just afraid with all the preparations going on that we'll forget to do something basic, like show up!" Gadget said. Dale looked at the clocks on the wall reflexively. "I guess I'll have to get up early that day...sacrifices must be made..." Gadget knew his playfulness, and found herself playing along with him more these days. "Aw, poor wittle guy." Dale was still sitting on the floor, so Gadget reached down and started tickling the bottoms of his feet.
       Dale started laughing, "Okay! I'll set my alarm that day!" Gadget sat back up with a look of satisfaction. "That's better. Now, if we've got things under control I've got an invention that needs testing in my workshop. Do I hear a volunteer?" Dale jumped up at once. "MEMEMEMMEMEMMEMEMEMEME!" Gadget grinned and took his hand. "Okay 'me', come on!"

       Dale followed Gadget inside, and they spent the rest of the day in her workshop. The next few days followed a similar routine, except that Dale continued to get more nervous with each one. Every ring of the phone had him jumping, and he made sure to stick close. Dale managed to keep up a good show in front of Gadget and as long as he was with her he was content. When he had to think about the DNA test, as he was currently, Dale was filled with nervous tension. Then the phone rang.
       Before anyone could even move to answer the phone, with superchipmunkian speed Dale raced across the room and down the hall on all fours to reach the phone before anyone else could. "HELLO!" Sparky's voice come through the receiver. "Oh uh, hello. Is that you, Dale?" Dale looked about to make sure that he was out of direct sight and hearing range of everyone, then whispered loudly, "Yeah, what did you find?" Dale crossed his fingers and toes and waited for the response.
       "I finished the DNA fingerprinting process this morning, but I wanted to triple-check it before I called because of a couple of anomalies. The X-Ray prints of the various chromosomes do not match. So whoever the daughter is, that mother and father aren't her parents. Was that helpful?" Sparky asked. Dale felt like he had been punched in the stomach. He couldn't believe he was right.
       "Yeah, that's what I needed to know. Thanks, Sparky. I owe you big time for this," Dale said, dejected. Sparky's reply was consistent. "Owe me for what?"
       "For the work you just did for me," Dale replied.
       "Oh, okay. Well, if you need any more work done, let me know. I used all of the samples, but do you want those containers back?" Sparky asked.
       "No, you can throw them away. Just keep the results handy, just in case we need to compare anyone else against them, okay?" Dale asked.
       "Uh, sure thing," Sparky said. Then there was a long pause. "What results?" Dale counted to five. "Just don't lose what you have."
       "Okay, then," Sparky said. "Say, there's some DNA prints next to me. I'd better catalogue those in case anyone wants to see them. Well, goodbye Dale. Hope it was good news for whoever this is." Sparky hung up the phone and Dale let the receiver drop into its cradle.
       "Now the mystery begins..."

       Monty walked in from the main room to the start of the hallway where the phone was. "Howdy, mate! Say, you lit out o' the room like you had a fire alert in the posterior! What's up?" Before Dale could think of a way to answer, Chip and Foxy came in from outside. Foxy gave Chip a small hug, then walked on into the main room where Gadget and Zipper were watching "Gyp-Parody" and joined them. Chip stopped to join Dale and Monty for a moment.
       "Boy, I sure could use a snack. You guys gonna watch the show too?" Chip asked. Dale knew he had an opportunity here with just the guys around him, so he decided to take it. "Chip, remember when I said I might need your help? Well, I need it now. Monty, you oughta know this too but we gotta go outside. I don't want Gadget to hear this." Monty looked at Dale with curiosity. "Sure thing, mate. Does it have to do with the wedding?" Dale was doing his best to maintain his composure. "No, but it's something just as big."
       The trio walked into the main room, and caught the attention of the others. Gadget turned around on the sofa. "Are you guys coming? Double Gyp-Parody's about to get going!" Monty knew that Dale was upset over something, and decided to step in for him. "Be there in a few, Gadget-luv. We guys haveta do a little guy-talking outside, private-like."
       Foxy rolled her eyes and put her wings on her hips. "Boys! They're probably going to talk about us, you know." Gadget winked at Dale. "Well, sure. What else would they talk about?" Dale faked a smile to her in return. "Yeah, that's what we're gonna do." Gadget turned back around to face the screen. "Okay, then. You guys go out and have your little talk. We girls will be good, and we'll have Zipper to protect us. Right, Zip?"
       Zipper saw that Monty's look meant for him to stay. "You got it, ladies. Anyone comes in here unwanted, and I'll take care of business!" Dale led the guys out of the tree, all the way to the fountain. "Guys, I've got a mystery and I need to know what to do about it."
       Chip was growing overly curious. Why would Dale lead them all this way? "All right, we're here. What's got you so worked up?" Dale took a deep breath, closed his eyes and looked to the ground. "I've discovered that Gadget isn't the Hackwrenches' true child."

       Monty instantly understood why he'd been secretive, and the gasp from Monty and Chip was audible in that whole area of the park. "Gadget ain't a Hackwrench? Dale, are ya sure 'bout this?" Monty asked. Chip knew now that Dale wasn't as dumb as he'd assumed, but this was quite a statement from anyone. "Yeah, Dale. What led you to think that, and why are you so certain?"
       "Well, it happened when I saw her donor card and birth certificate and they didn't match up," Dale said, going on to explain what else he'd done. "Sparky did the DNA tests three times and it's proved, but her birth certificate says she was born to the Hackwrenches. So the doctor lied, but why?"
       Both Chip and Monty went silent. Chip knew that DNA testing of one child to a parent might not be totally conclusive, but testing against both plus the blood test usually was ironclad. "We can try to find out, but shouldn't Gadget be told this?" Monty got his voice back at this suggestion. "No, mate! I kin hardly believe what you're telling me, but it sounds like it's proven in black and white. Gadget's memory of her parents is precious to her, after all. I don't think we should tell her, unless we at least have something equally good in exchange ta offer-like her real folks."
       Dale had been thinking the same thing. He couldn't bear to see Gadget hurt. "The next question is, do we even look into this? The Hackwrenches had their reasons for faking the birth certificate. They must've never wanted Gadget to know the truth."
       Chip's mind was focused on the problem, and he immediately knew the ramifications of this decision would affect Gadget greatly. It was going to be hard on her if she found out, so the chipmunk detective began to run over the possibilities in his mind. "Maybe it was them, and maybe it wasn't. Never assume a fact until it's proven, Dale. I for one think we owe it to Gadget to find out. If it was one of us, she'd go the ends of the earth."
       Dale gave his friend a "but really" look. "Chip, I think if someone gave them a daughter, they'd be in on the secret." Chip shook his head as he replied. "We can't assume anyone gave her to them. They might have adopted Gadget somewhere, and for some unknown reason wanted it to appear that she was their birth child. It doesn't make sense that they would, though. What reason would they have, other than to make Gadget think that she was a Hackwrench? No, this smells like someone else was involved," Chip said. Dale could only think of one source for that. "Yeah, the doctor that signed the birth certificate."

       Monty had been weighing all of this in his mind, but there was still parts of it he didn't like. "I know what yer thinking about, Chip, but this is Gadget's loife we're talking about here. Is it worth it ta risk her happiness on this? Is it worth it ta you, Dale?"
       Chip knew there was more to it than just what he'd mentioned so far. "What if it's a secret that may come back to haunt her someday? Something we could've stopped if we'd acted beforehand? What if it was to hide her from her real parents, or someone who held them a grudge? If the information's out there, anyone could potentially find out the way Dale did. There's too many unanswered questions just to walk away from it."
       Dale was glad Chip was here. He had a way of getting to the bottom line. "Okay, we look into this, but if she doesn't need to know we don't tell her, okay?" Monty looked at Chip and Dale's expectant faces. His poor heart was aching for Gadget, but he knew that what they were saying was right. "I jus' hope she doesn't need ta know. All right, we'll go find this doctor and learn what we can. We can tell the girls that we men are going on a little outing together. Oh, my sweet lass! What were you thinkin', Geegaw? What were you thinking?"
       Chip grabbed Monty's arm to steady him. "Calm down, Monty! Gadget will know something's up if she sees you this way. Besides, we don't know the Hackwrenches' role in this just yet. Perhaps they had a very good reason for what they did." Dale sat on the grassy knoll and looked down. "At times like this I wish I hadn't grown up. This is what I was hoping to avoid." Monty dried his eyes. "Don't worry, pally. We're here with ya. I know this must be hardest on you, 'cause it could make Gadget unhappy. Chip and I are goin' to be with you all the way."

      Chip came over and patted Dale's shoulder. "You really are more responsible these days. You did a fine job confirming the facts about Gadget, even if those facts are hard to take. Don't worry Dale, we'll get to the bottom of this together." Dale looked up at his old friend. "What do I do now, Chip? I really need your help here." Chip had already been thinking it over. "We've got to find out the doctor's role in all this. It goes without saying that if this is a cover-up on his part, he'll likely lie to us. We should bring all the evidence that you've gotten together and confront him. If he won't budge, then we'll have to find a way around him to get our answers."
       "I've got most of the evidence in our room, but we'll have to pick up copies of the DNA tests from Sparky," Dale said. Chip was surprised to hear that name, as Dale had left out that one detail in his explanation. "You used Sparky? Well, I'll give you credit for that one. That's probably the one place where the information should be safe from Gadget. All right, we'll do it tomorrow and make all the preparations we can tonight. I expect we'll have to do some covert work, so make sure to have your field equipment ready. We'll just tell the girls that we're going on an all-day outing and we may not be back until the next morning."
       Dale looked worried. "Will they believe that?" Chip shook his head. "Probably not, but in their current frame of mind, they'll likely think we're doing something associated with the wedding." Dale suddenly realized what Chip was hinting at. "A bachelor party? We could take Zipper with us then."
       "That's roight," Monty said. "They'll be lookin' for us ta do something like that. I'll grab ol' Zip once he's free and he can come along too. I don't think he'd want to miss this - even if it ain't a bachelor party." Chip pulled his fedora down slightly. "Okay, let's get this done for Gadget. We'll head out tomorrow morning right after breakfast."

       The men went back inside, and they managed to control themselves. It wasn't easy, but each had the comfort of knowing that the others were there for support. Just as they'd suspected, the girls guessed it was a bachelor party. Monty explained they were going on an all-day outing and he'd look after the boys to keep them out of trouble. After they got through laughing, the girls gave them permission to go on their "expedition". Once everyone had turned in, Chip and Dale quickly made their preparations in their room. When they were in bed, Chip whispered to Dale.
       "You doing okay, Dale?"
       Dale shifted slightly under the covers. "Yeah, I'm okay. I just didn't expect anything like this."
       "I don't think any of us could, but you've done the right thing-you made sure that the problem existed before you spread the word," Chip said. Dale climbed down from his bunk and knelt by Chip's bed. "What if it's something terrible? How could I look her in the eyes and tell her?"
       "Because you love her, and you'd be there for her," Chip replied. Dale's eyelids went halfway down as he looked to the floor. "Yeah, but it doesn't make me feel much better. I wanted all this to be perfect." Chip leaned over on his arm, facing Dale. "You can't just think of yourself in all this. Believe me, I know that one. It may not go just like you want, but she won't stop loving you over this if she finds out. She'll need you all the more."
       "I wonder what her real parents were like and why all this happened," Dale said. Chip sighed. It did hurt to talk about these things. "That's crossed my mind, too. Whatever the case, we'll do all we can to find out. Maybe they're still alive and will want to see her. That'd be nice, since we both know Gadget's missed having her parents." Dale climbed back into bed, relieved that he had his friend to lean on. "I'm glad I can count on you, Chip." Chip turned out the light. "Good night, Dale."

       The next morning, the boys ate a hearty breakfast and hoisted their field packs. The girls kidded them about their "trip", and Foxy told Chip to be a "good scout" and not get distracted by the "lady scouts". Gadget hugged Dale goodbye, which caused him to almost burst in tears but he held it in. With Monty and now Zipper along for the mission, the male Rangers began their trek by dropping in on Sparky at N.Y.U. Once they had the DNA results in hand, they began their search for the mysterious Dr. Mavel. Fortunately, the name of the hospital was on the records so the group soon arrived at the rodent section of New York Presbyterian Hospital. A nurse at the main desk looked up as they approached.
       "May I help you?" she asked. Chip looked to Dale, but he indicated for Chip to take the front and he did so. "Hello, we're the Rescue Rangers. We need to see Dr. Mavel about a serious matter." The nurse checked a notebook in front of her. "Dr. Mavel was scheduled for surgery this morning, but he should be in or near his office for another half hour or so. He's the head surgeon in obstetrics and gynecology. Take the stairs to your right, and two floors up. His office will be to your right at the far end of the hall."
       Dale and the others marched off with grim determination. "A meeting with destiny."
       "Yeah. Hope it's in a good mood..." Monty added blandly.

      The Rangers reached the third floor, and within a few moments they stood before a door whose placard read "Dr. Anthony Mavel". In the hallways and adjacent rooms, there were several expectant mothers being attended to by various doctors and Dale could only try to picture Gadget's true mother having been here at one time. The doctor's secretary told them that he was in with a patient, so they were forced to wait. At the end of nearly an hour, the doctor emerged. He was a middle-aged light-brown-colored mouse in a white lab coat and wearing a stethoscope around his neck.
       Chip walked up to the doctor and handed him Gadget's birth certificate. "Doctor Mavel, we'd like to discuss this in your office." Dr. Mavel didn't know what to make of these people accosting him, but he let them in. Once he'd studied the papers Chip had given to him, a chill went up his spine. He'd almost forgotten about this, but obviously someone hadn't. As calmly as he could, the doctor took a seat at his desk and motioned for the others to take chairs opposite him.
       "I must emphasize that my schedule is busy one. If you gentlemen have a point to make with this document, then I ask you to come to the point," Dr. Mavel said, his voice even and authoritative. Dale spoke up before Chip could start in. "We want to know why you faked this birth certificate. We've had Gadget's DNA tested against the Hackwrenches and it's not a match. Who are her real parents and why the trickery?" Dale crossed his arms and was almost a perfect bookend of Chip in the chair next to him. The doctor took the DNA results that Dale gave him and looked them over, as well as the blood information.
       "Frankly, I am at a loss to explain the discrepancy in the blood typing on these certificates, but mistakes can be made. As for DNA testing, you should know that DNA fingerprints are made from only one strand of the entire chain. Testing errors can occur, as well as errors in interpretation. You are making a rather large accusation, sir. Is this all the proof you have?" Dr. Mavel said, taking a very serious tone.
       Dale started to hesitate, but the doctor's counter didn't faze Chip. "That's why the DNA was tested twice more and the blood typing isn't just on their birth certificates," Chip said. "The Hackwrenches donated blood a lot, and those receipts included with the hospital records listed their blood type as the same as on the birth certificates. If one of these two things was wrong I would've let it go as a mistake, but not both." Monty leaned over the doctor's desk. "You can't jus' dismiss what's written there 'cause you may not like it. Do you have any proof that Laura is Gadget Hackwrench's mother?"
       Dr. Mavel could see that he wasn't going to be able to intimidate this bunch, so he took on a genial air. "Besides my personally delivering the child, there's the hospital's copy of Laura's records," the doctor said, taking a breath then putting on a friendly demeanor to go with the voice. "Gentlemen, if there has been as you so bluntly put it a 'conspiracy' then I'll give you my full cooperation to see that this matter is rectified. I personally have no knowledge of any wrongdoing, but if there has been rest assured I want an answer as much as you do. I'm afraid that answer will have to wait until tomorrow, though-those records would have been kept only on hard copy, and the process of digging up the paperwork will take time."
       Dr. Mavel stood and picked up a notepad and pencil. "Come back around this time tomorrow morning, and if the hard copies bear out your story then I'll see what I can do. For now, I have to attend to my rounds." The doctor showed them to the door, then began walking down the hall visiting patients.

      Dale was about to say something when Chip put a firm hand on Dale's shoulder. "Dale, we've already taken up too much of the doctor's time. Thank you, Doctor Mavel." Chip watched the doctor until he was out of range, then motioned to the others to go with him. They found a secluded empty room near the nurse's station.
       "He was lying, no doubt of it," Chip said. Dale had suspected it too, but was glad for his friend's confirmation. "What do we do then? You know he's gonna give us fake papers or say they got lost or something."
       "Yeah, it's not like we can just put him on the rack," Zipper added. Monty cracked his knuckles. "Sounds good ta me, mate." Chip began thinking out loud, a technique he often found useful. "He seemed surprised to find that anyone knew about this, so I suspect that those records just might tell the story. We have to get to them first, before the doctor can do anything to them."
       "You think we should break in?" Dale asked, not sure if he liked that idea. Chip shrugged, "Call it what you will, but we can't let him get to those hard copies first. I suggest we make the pretense of leaving, and then set up a surveillance. As I recall, the records section's in the basement and the only way I saw down there was by the stairs. We can camp out and have Zipper watch for him. If he goes down there, we'll know it's time to move. Otherwise, we'll wait until things quiet down."
       Monty rubbed his hands briskly. "A bit 'o maneuvers, eh? Reminds me of the toime I was on a mission with a bunch o' wombats in Tasmania. They'd had their local food stores taken over by a wide-eyed wallaby and we waited till it was so dark you couldn't see yer hand two inches away...."
       Chip ignored the account and turned his attention to the smallest Ranger. "What about it, Zipper? Feel up to covert surveillance?" Zipper saluted. "Sure, no problem. He'll never slip by the fly." Dale shook his hand. "Thanks, Zipper. I knew we could count on you."

       Upstairs, Doctor Mavel finished his rounds and after checking the hall he slipped into his office and picked up the phone. The doctor opened a drawer and fished around until he found an old phone list book. Nervously, he thumbed through it until he reached a certain page then dialed off a series of numbers.
       "Hello? This is Dr. Mavel. I was the one that you recruited for that special favor all those years ago. You remember? Good. Listen, I've had some visitors who have been asking some pointed questions and....yes that's them. What should I do? Yes, there are still records but only in hard copy. Did I mention it? Yes, I believe so. I can work up some duplicates, so...destroy them? That's illegal! But...but...all right, all right. I'll have to wait until no one's around and you'll have to cover me on this. Okay then, but leave me out of this from here on."

      Dr. Mavel hung up the phone and left at his normal time, contemplating what this was all about. The boys watched him leave, then Dale went and signaled Zipper in. They settled in for the night and shared the "field rations" which consisted mainly of crackers and cheese. As the quiet of night took over, the Ranger guys assumed their disguises and came out dressed in black sweaters and sweater-caps. There was only a lone guard on duty, and it was an easy matter to time his round and slip by unseen. They took all pains to be quiet, and soon were outside the records room. Monty picked the lock and then they were inside.
       They were all whispers now, and Dale spoke first. "We gotta get in there fast. No telling when that doc's gonna try something." Monty moved forward stealthily. "This reminds me o' the toime many years ago when I was sneakin' into a cheese warehouse in France to deliver a secret package to some secret agents..." Chip shushed them both then lit his penlight and the others followed suit. The room was one big collection of filing cabinets. The task appeared daunting.
       "All right, let's split up and everyone begin searching," Chip said. "The records should be indexed by year, so that should help some. If you think you've found the right cabinet, let the others know and we'll all work it together. We're fighting the clock and possible interference on this one. And watch out for detection devices - I doubt there'll be any in here, but you never know. All right, let's get to it!"
       Chip and Dale took one side of the room and Monty began working the other side. "I'll be a fly on the wall and keep watch," Zipper said.
       "Good idea. Never know who might show up," Chip said. Dale worked through the files, part of him dreading to find what they were so desperately seeking. Chip had been right - the files were organized by year, and more than that they were organized by sections of the hospital. It was Monty who found the obstetrics section, and he called the others over. Once they'd found the correct year, they found themselves with about two hundred files to sift through.
       Dale looked at the pile of records. "Here we go. Maybe we can get a straight answer from these. Maybe this is all some kinda mistake…maybe." Chip had Monty help him heft the files out all at once. "Let's split it up into thirds. It's got to be here somewhere..."
       Soon they had three stacks of manila envelopes divided between them. Chip cautioned them to keep the order straight so that no one could easily tell that they were tampering. Dale was having trouble keeping his mind on this task, not being used to prolonged concentration. **Do it for Gadget. C'mon Dale, stay focused!**

      For a long time, the only sound was the shifting of the envelopes, as the Rangers kept them in order. Ten minutes passed. Fifteen minutes. Then, almost against his will, Dale found the file. He held it up with trembling hands. "Here it is," he said, handing it to Chip. "Chip, I'm too nervous to look at it."
       Chip quickly unwound the string on the back of the envelope and pulled the file out. "Yes, this is it! The blood types are the same as the ones Gadget had on her certificates. And here's something more...according to this, Laura couldn't have been Gadget's mother even if she'd wanted to be. Her system wasn't capable of it. There may be more..." Chip took up several other papers and kept reading.
       "So it's really true. Crikey…" Monty said, letting it sink in. Dale looked panicked and worried all in one. "Oh, man! This is bad." Chip kept flipping through the papers, looking for any clue at all to point them to their next destination. Finally, he gave up. "There's nothing else. Okay, we'd better start putting these other envelopes back..."
       As the trio finished putting the envelopes away, Zipper came over. "Someone's coming! I can see a light at the head of the stairs." Everyone doused their penlights and looked out from behind a bank of cabinets. The beam of a flashlight illuminated the door and shone through the glass to the opposite wall. A form quickly moved to the very cabinet they had been searching through and began looking hurriedly.
       Dale held his breath as he'd watched Dr. Mavel enter the room and open the file where they had just been searching through, intent on removing the evidence. Dale removed his disguise and stood. The doctor turned and the beam of his flashlight spotlighted a suave-looking chipmunk in a white tuxedo. "Did you really think you'd outwit the Rescue Rangers, my good doctor? Smile!"

      Dale took the doctor's picture with his tie camera and Mavel was blinded. He dropped the file in his hand and fell on the floor, groping for it. Chip looked at Mavel with disdain. "This gives malpractice a whole new meaning. Your little charade's over, doctor."
       The doctor's eyes recovered and then he spoke, the fear evident in his voice. "I...don't know what you're talking about." Monty pulled his sleeves up. "We've got you dead to roights, mate." Monty snatched the file that Dr. Mavel had carried in with him and paged through it. "So, this is the file that says that all's right with the world and that Geegaw and Laura were Gadget's original mom and dad. It's a far cry from the one you were gonna replace."
       Dr. Mavel for all his bravado was acting against his better judgment, and now that judgment took over again. "Look, I didn't want to do this but I owed...that is, I had to! Don't ask me to explain further, please! I could lose my job!" Monty grabbed him by the collar and lifted him to his feet. "Yer gonna tell us what this is all about."
       "I can't tell you! I won't! They made me promise!" Dr. Mavel pleaded. Dale got up right in his face. "Who are 'they?' Tell us or you're busted, buster!" They had the evidence in their hands, and he knew it. Maybe it was time to accept that west coast position that he'd been offered. "All right."
       "Let's hear it, then," Chip said. "Who's behind all this?"

       Dr. Mavel stood up. "You may as well know the whole story, then. The Hackwrenches came here many years ago, accompanied by an infant and another mouse. She explained what she wanted from me, and considering her authority and reputation I agreed to go along with the deception. The Hackwrenches were to adopt this child that would be listed as their own, and no questions asked. The only problem was the child didn't have the right blood type to come from them so I made her blood type the same as Laura's. I never thought that would come back to haunt me-who pays attention to blood types? But I'll never believe that she meant any harm by this." Dr. Mavel went to the door, then turned around. "You can ask her yourself, if you must. It was Bianca Râboga, of the Rescue Aid Society."
       Dale gasped, unbelieving. "Bianca's behind all this?! That's not possible!" Monty's sentiments were the same. "Crikey! How can that be? You ain't lyin' to throw us off are ya?" Dr. Mavel held up a hand in a gesture of seriousness. "I swear, it's the truth! What more do you want?" Chip indicated for Monty to back off. "Do you know why they did this?"
       "No…no. It was no-questions-asked, and they all seemed to indicate it was for a good cause. Why should I doubt them? Now I wish I'd have said no," Dr. Mavel said. Dale pointed at the nervous doctor, making eye contact with him. "We'll look into this, but you better not be lying. And don't leave town, we'll be keepin' an eye on you."
       Dr. Mavel's shoulder's sagged. "What could I do now? She'll know I told you. I just ask one thing - once you've talked to her, ask her not to betray me. I haven't done anything like that before or since. I'd like to keep my job, and this city or some city can use a good doctor." Chip could sense he was being honest with them. "If all this was done for a good cause, then yes, we'll put in a good word for you. But if this is some sort of deception or plot, then you're out of business."
       "I promise you, I'm a good physician. I didn't want to break my word to her, but lies inevitably catch up with us all. I hope the cause really is good, and I'll be here at the hospital if you need me," the doctor replied. Chip took the real file from the drawer. "Okay, doc. Go about your business. We'll hold onto this, just so no 'accidents' happen to it while we're gone."

      The Rangers headed out, and as they got outside Chip signaled for them to stop. "Well, now we know at least part of it. Who would have believed it was Bianca?" Dale certainly didn't. "But she's such a sweet, wonderful lady! This is gonna be rough on Gadget. Bianca's like a mom…to…her. Uh, guys..."
       "What is it, Dale?" Monty asked.
       Dale raised his index finger as he spoke. "Maybe Bianca is Gadget's mom!" Chip stopped short at that thought. Bianca, Gadget's mom? "Well, it would explain why she's willing to put this wedding together for Gadget and why she's grown so close to her. What could have been so bad to keep Bianca from revealing the truth?"
       "An affair with an unexpected result?" Zipper asked.
       "Maybe Gadget was the only survivor o' some horrible accident..." Monty mused.
      Chip pursed his lips, lost in thought. "Well, Bianca can tell us when we ask her." As they climbed aboard the RangerPlane, Chip couldn't hold back his curiosity any longer. "Dale, why were you wearing your tux?" Dale gave him that easygoing smile of his. "Simple! We superspies always wear tuxedos under our disguises."



Chapter 4 - A Heavy Dose of Reality

       Gadget had gotten worried about Dale and the others. She knew she trusted them all, but still it was almost midnight and she hadn't seen or heard from the guys in hours. Deeper still in her mind, she grew a little suspicious. "No! Dale would never do anything like that!" Gadget chided herself. "He loves me and wouldn't do anything to hurt me. I know Monty would keep them all out of trouble and not let Dale get, uh, distracted by any other girls they meet at the party."
       Still the thoughts were there, and she couldn't find sleep. Gadget got out of bed and made her way down the stairs from the lair in her nightgown and headed for the kitchen for a snack. In the illumination from the moonlight, she approached the fridge when she heard the front door open. She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the voices of the guys. They were talking quietly and heading for the kitchen.
       "We can't let her know what happened, unless it's a matter of life and death," Dale whispered. Chip whispered back, "Let's hope it doesn't come to that. She'd be devastated if she ever learned about it." Zipper buzzed along quietly with them, "You're right, she must never know." Monty sighed, "I wish we hadn't done what we did. We shoulda all just turned and walked away, but we couldn't resist. We just had ta do it."

       Gadget couldn't believe what she was hearing. What had happened that the boys felt she couldn't know about it? A hundred thoughts went through her head, and she didn't like any of them. Gadget checked her temper and walked out. "Just had to do what?" Gadget looked at the bunch of them, with her arms crossed.
       "Gadget?!" the men said as one.
       "Nothing happened, Gadget!" Dale said quickly.
       "Nope not a thing," Chip added.
       "We were just...uh, out," Zipper said.
       "Nothin' fer you to fret over, Gadget luv," Monty replied.
       Gadget centered her attention on Dale and her eyes narrowed. "And what are you doing in that tuxedo? I thought you'd only wear that for me! Dale, you didn't...you didn't..." Gadget's anger turned to tears and she ran into the kitchen. Dale ran after her and put his hands on her shoulders from behind. "I'm sorry, Gadget, this isn't what you think! You can't imagine what really happened, but it's not what you imagined happened. But you still don't want to know what happened, understand?"
       Gadget turned around fast on him, her face a mixture of emotion and tears. "Dale, how could you? I thought you didn't care about stuff like that, but now what am I to think? Dale, I trusted you with my heart. Please tell me it wasn't a mistake!"

       Dale's poor heart was breaking. He couldn't let Gadget suffer, but she was suffering. Dale got down on his knees, pleading. "I'm yours forever and you're my one and only love. Gadget, we never went to any old bachelor party. I hate that kinda stuff! We were out investigating something, but I can't tell you what it is. Please, believe me!"
       Gadget pushed by Dale in a fit of frustration, and threw the door open to the main room. She also threw Monty and Chip off the door, which knocked them to the floor. She was about to walk over them and go outside when she noticed the envelope that had been knocked from Chip's hand.
       "What's this? Is this what you went after?" Gadget said, her words coming out fast and harsh. She snatched up the envelope before Chip or Monty could react. "This has my mom's name on it. What's this all about? Talk fast, guys."
       "Well..." Monty started.
       "You see, Gadget..." Chip said. Chip sighed and shook his head. "Gadget, first sit down. This is going to be very rough on you." Gadget turned to look at Dale coming in from the kitchen, and she could now see the reluctant fear in his face. Her brows began to lift, and the flood of her anger began to ebb.
       "The truth this time, then," Gadget said, crossing her arms again. "Don't make me have to second-guess you ever again, Dale." Gadget took a seat on the sofa, still holding the envelope. Dale sat beside her and took her hand. "Never again, I swear! I didn't wanna haveta fool you, but I did it trying to protect you. An' I hope you can forgive me for what I'm about to say." Chip Monty and Zipper took seats too, knowing she and Dale would need their presence. Gadget began to feel nervous and looked back at her fiancé. "Dale, what were you protecting me from? And what's in this envelope?"
       "Final proof of the deception," Dale said. Foxy had been awakened by Gadget's shouting, and had just appeared at the edge of the main room. She knew something was up, but she could sense so much tension in the room that she didn't dare come nearer. Gadget didn't even notice her come in.
       "Deception? What do you mean?" Gadget asked, her eyes searching his face. Monty tried to take some of the burden from Dale's shoulders. "It's gonna take a bit of explainin', Gadget luv. Dale, if you feel you need one of us ta take over at any point, let us know." Dale looked to Monty, Chip and Zipper and smiled. "Thanks guys."

       Dale hugged Gadget, then spoke to her as calmly as he could manage. "Gadget...Geegaw and Laura Hackwrench weren't your true parents. You were adopted." Gadget's stare locked on Dale. She heard the words, and she could see that he was serious. Her mouth came open slightly and a feeling of awful dread came over her. "Not...my parents? But Dale, you can't be right. My birth certificate confirms that I'm Gadget Hackwrench," Gadget said.
       Dale shook his head. "Your birth certificate was forged by the doctor who signed it. Your donor card shows you have a different blood type than your parents - that was the first clue. I got some hair samples from your parents' things - don't be mad, Gadget, it was the only way - and I had Sparky do a DNA test with them against yours. It was negative, and he checked it twice more to be sure. We went to the doctor that signed the birth certificate and after we showed him our proof…" Dale had to stop here to regain his composure, seeing the look on Gadget's face. Then he continued.
       "After we showed him the proof and all, we got him to admit that he'd faked the birth certificate. The records you've got there were the originals from your parents on file at the hospital. They were the final proof. Your mother had a problem that made it impossible for her to ever have children," Dale said, the pain in his face hard to look at.
       Gadget looked at the envelope in her hands. She didn't want to believe it, but her hand started to open the package. Within a minute, she saw it all - the medical records, the DNA tests, the doctor's confirmation on her mother. They told the entire story and she knew then it was true. She didn't say a word until she had put the papers gingerly back into the envelope. Monty put a comforting hand on her head as she started to cry.
       "And...and did this doctor tell you who my…who my parents are?" Gadget asked. Monty took a seat on the other side of her from Dale. "No, Gadget luv, but he told us who put him up ta doin' this. Much as it pains me ta say it, it was Bianca Râboga." Gadget's eyes bulged in shock as she look up at Monty. She'd never in a dozen lifetimes have connected that name with any wrongdoing.

       "B..Bianca!? No, it can't be true! It can't! She loves me! Why would she do this to me? Why?!" Gadget launched herself at Dale and began crying softly. Chip, Zipper and Monty could only watch in deep sympathy as she clung to Dale. Foxy also watched and cried some as she knew the pain the mouse inventor was feeling.
       Dale was crying too, and patted her back. "We don't know why Bianca did it, but we'll go to her and get her to tell us." Gadget pulled away from him, shaking her head. "I can't...I can't go there. You'll have to go and talk to her. I can't believe she'd do this! I refuse to believe it!"
       "She does have the clout to convince a top physician to fake a birth certificate," Chip said. Gadget clung to Dale hard and spoke between the sobs. "I just can't accept she'd betray me willingly. I don't have anyone but you anymore, Dale. Please don't ever leave me or fool me anymore. I don't think I could take it..."
       Foxy had watched from afar, but now she come in close. She saw the pain equally in them all, and she went to Chip and held him while they watched Dale and Gadget. Dale wished he could make that pain go away, but all he knew to do was hold her. "Gadget, I'll always be here for you. We all will. We'll get to the bottom of this or my name isn't Dale Archer Oakmont!"
       Monty took off his flight cap. "Gadget luv, if she's done ya wrong then we'll find out why. There's gotta be a reason." Gadget wiped some of the tears away. "I think...I think I'd like to be alone now with Dale. I know that you all didn't mean to hurt me, and I don't think any worse of you for this. I just need some time." Monty hugged Gadget, then left. The others said their goodbyes and soon Gadget and Dale were alone.
       "Dale, I'm sorry I got mad at you. I should have known I could trust you," Gadget said. Dale felt like a cad for what he'd been forced to tell her, but knew she needed him. "No problem, this isn't something you could've possibly counted on. Letting you think we were going to a bachelor party was stupid, and I should've come up with something better. I'm sorry all this had to come to light. Gadget, we were torn between telling you the truth and hurting you or letting you be happy without knowing the truth. In a way, I'm glad you know. It would've been tough to keep all this a secret from you the rest of my life."
       Gadget understood now the reason for the pained look he'd given her when he'd started talking in the kitchen. She stroked his cheek and looked into his eyes. "And you love me that much, that you would have carried the burden without letting me know ever? Dale, whatever happens tomorrow, tell Bianca that I still love her. I just don't know if I'll ever be able to like her again. I hope I can."
       "Then come with us," Dale prodded. "I think your being there'd help her come clean. No one could look you in the eyes and lie."
       "I'll think about it. It just hurts so much to think that she didn't tell me the truth. And Geegaw's not my father. He never let me know, either, but I know he loved me and so did Laura. But if they loved me, why didn't they tell me?" Gadget asked.
       Dale held her hands in his. "I don't know. Maybe they were protecting you from something, or someone." Gadget's voice took on a desperate tone. "Oh Dale, I feel like a pilot who's lost her compass and I'm flying in a fogbank! I thought my life was complete now, but this...if you weren't here, I don't know what I'd do."
       Dale didn't quite know what to say or think at this point. He'd gotten so used to other people comforting him and giving him guidance that he wasn't sure how to comfort someone else. So far, he'd been more dependent on Gadget than she had on him but now Dale held her close and gently kissed her cheek. "You're strong, and you'll make it through just fine. Tomorrow we'll have the answer and then it'll be okay again."
       "I hope so, Dale. I want it to be all right more desperately than you know. I'm scared," Gadget said. Gadget gathered the sofa covering, and she looked at him pleadingly. "Dale, stay here with me on the sofa tonight. I can't go back up there and be alone. I need you."

       Dale was suddenly sweating, and Gadget could see the thought in his mind. She took his hand and squeezed it. "Dale, I'm not going back on what we discussed and agreed to about being together. I wouldn't think of asking you to be intimate with me now, and we both know that's not why we're getting married. Maybe someday, when we're both ready. Right now, I just need you to be with me and help me to be strong."
       Gadget gave Dale some blanket, and gently covered his mouth with her hand before he could say anything. "You don't have to pretend for me, Dale. I know you're nervous about this. Don't think you ever have to do anything to please me. You pleased me the day you said you loved me, and that's all I care about. As long as you're there for me, I'll always be happy."
       Gadget made sure some blanket was between them, and then she rested on Dale's shoulder nearest her while pulling Dale's right arm behind her head to rest on her shoulders. Dale was still a little nervous, but he couldn't blame Gadget for wanting some comfort.
       Dale watched Gadget as she fell asleep and her face became peaceful. He listened to Gadget's breathing, and it calmed him. It was all new for Dale, but now he knew he would have to be strong for them both. "It's okay, Gadget, I understand. And as long as you love me, I'll be happy…always." As he continued to listen, the rhythm lulled him to sleep and then all was still.

       Chip couldn't sleep, which seemed to be happening all too often for him. This time though, the problem wasn't his. He hadn't gone to check when Dale didn't return. He could figure the reason easily enough, and he didn't blame them one bit. Chip was about to turn the light off when he realized he was hungry. He hadn't eaten anything since getting back, and it had caught up with him. Chip stole into the kitchen and found some chocolate in the pantry. As he was finishing up, he left the kitchen and he saw them. Gadget was with Dale on the couch, and both were wrapped in a blanket and the peace of slumber.
       He was about to just leave when he noticed that Gadget had kicked some of the blanket off herself and looked cold. Chip tiptoed in, feeling like an overprotective father. He gently moved the blanket to cover her, and also covered one of Dale's feet. He started to go when Gadget stirred. She was dreaming, and she whispered, "Thank you, daddy." Chip moved close to her ear and whispered, "I love you. Sleep tight." Gadget smiled and stopped stirring. Chip looked on the both of them for a little while longer, then moved silently back to his room. He turned out the light and was asleep within a minute.       

       The dawn painted its golden rays across the main room of Ranger Headquarters, and Gadget's eyes cracked open. She was momentarily disoriented, but then she remembered last night and all that had happened. It was the first morning she had ever faced where she didn't feel she had a father. Gadget had loved Laura, but she was in truth much closer to Geegaw. Now she didn't know what to feel about the man she had called dad. Then Gadget shifted her attention to Dale in his tuxedo, still asleep. She smiled a little, and was grateful he'd stayed. Gadget reached up and tickled his nose.
       Dale opened his eyes, and felt the same disorientation that Gadget had. He smiled and then yawned, looking into Gadget's eyes that were so close to his, then it suddenly occurred to him where he was. "Oh! Sorry about that, Gadget! Uh...are you feeling better this morning?" Gadget managed a small smile. "Good morning, sleepy head. A little, I suppose. It just feels like mom and dad died again in a strange way. Thanks for staying."
       "You're welcome. I never thought that anyone'd ever feel better just by me being around. I'm glad I could help," Dale said, then spoke again. "Gadget, your mom and dad loved you so much you never ever had reason to figure on any of this. It's not like that changed. They loved you, you were their daughter and they were your mom and dad so nothing can change that."
       Gadget pulled him to her in a warm hug. "You're better than any teddy bear I could ask for, Dale. And you give better advice, too. C'mon, let's get up and get something to eat. We've got questions that need answering."

       Gadget straightened up and then a question formed on her face as she looked back at Dale. "Just what were you wearing your tuxedo for last night, anyway?" Dale looked embarrassed. "Well, we superspies never know when we might have to attend a formal dinner party during a case so I took no chances." Gadget gave out a laugh and shook her head. "Even when I'm sad, you can still bring some happiness in. Thank you."
       Gadget held out her hand to him, and Dale took it willingly and went with her into the kitchen. Monty was up, and breakfast was cooking. "Morning, you two! Saw you'd camped out on the couch last night. You doin' all right, Gadget luv?"
       "Dale's going to see Bianca this morning, Monty. I just really hope she has a good reason," Gadget said, looking down at her reflection in her breakfast dish. Monty served up his famous cheese flapjacks, then joined them at the table. "If there's anyone that will, it's her. You doing all right too, Dale?"
       Dale started in on breakfast. "I'm hanging in there. It's strange, if it wasn't for Gadget I wouldn't have the strength to help her." Dale squeezed Gadget's hand. "She's my strength." Monty grinned and went back to his cooking. "That's the way it is with love, mate. You can't give it unless you have it to give. But the more you give, the more ya have."
       Gadget just leaned on Dale and closed her eyes. "We're strong, together." Dale held Gadget and didn't say a word. Never could he have imagined what love was like-the strength, the pain, the wonder of it all was overwhelming. He wanted to kick himself for waiting this long to experience it. The other Rangers started piling in the kitchen, and everyone asked after Gadget and Dale. Chip seemed especially considerate, which surprised Dale some since he and Gadget were being so affectionate. Once breakfast was over, Dale went to freshen up and then it was time.
       "You sure you don't want anyone but me to go, Dale?" Chip asked. The others had all volunteered of course, but Dale shook his head. "Chip old buddy, I can't do this alone but Gadget needs Monty here to keep her spirits up and Bianca doesn't know Foxy or Zipper. She knows me though, and I might be able to make her spill the beans. I need you to back me up in case I mess this thing up." Chip had to smile some at Dale's blunt honesty. It was still a new thing, but Chip found himself admiring Dale for it. "I don't think you'll mess it up, but I'll be glad to go along. You going to be all right, Gadget?"
       "I..I guess. Thanks for going with him, and for being there," Gadget said. Chip knew it was hurting Gadget, and it made this all the harder. Chip looked to Dale, and indicated she needed a hug goodbye. Dale helped Gadget to her feet and hugged her tightly, then kissed her gently.
       "Gadget, everything's going to be fine. You'll be happy again by the end of the day, mark my words. This'll all work out for good!" Dale said, trying to sound confident. Gadget looked into Dale's eyes, and found some repose in them. "Somehow, when you say it I can just about believe it. Be gentle with her, and don't do anything either of us would regret."

       "Okay, we won't rough her up too badly," Dale said. Chip waited while Dale hugged her again and then the two of them left in the RangerWing. Chip was still getting used to Dale's relationship, but now he felt a new sense of camaraderie with his friend. It showed when he spoke to Dale in an advisatory way. "I know you haven't played this role often. She won't likely give up too easily. You may have to press her."
       Dale held up both of his thumbs and wiggled them. "I've handled everything from Space Invaders to Emperor Zurg. I'm ready for her." Chip turned his attention back to the UN building that was getting constantly closer. Soon they landed, and Dale led the way to the R.A.S. offices. The secretary remembered Dale from his previous visit with Gadget and allowed the two chipmunks to go down to Bianca's office without question. They huddled outside her door.
       "Remember, be calm and set the pace of the conversation," Chip said. Dale nervously nodded. "Right, be calm, and remember to call about reservations, got it." Dale clutched the folder with all the evidence and he desperately hoped he wasn't about to annoy a powerful woman with false accusations of conspiracy.
       Chip saw that Dale was hesitant, and would need coaching. "Go ahead and knock, Dale. If you're going to learn to handle things, it starts with initiative." Dale took a deep breath and knocked on the door. "Well, Iguessshe'sbusy, we better go..." Chip grabbed Dale's arm. "Remember, you're doing this for Gadget." That stopped Dale in his tracks. "Yeah, for Gadget. Doing this for Gadget. C'mon Dale, keep it together…"

       From inside they heard footsteps approach, then Bianca's face shone as she opened the door. "Dale! How pleasant to see you again. And you have brought your other handsome friend too. It is good to see you, Chip. Come in, gentlemen! Mister Bernard and I were just about to go to lunch." Bianca went back into her office and took a seat, all ready to talk about the wedding. As she sat down, she noticed Dale's nervousness.
       "Is something wrong, Dale?" Bianca asked, concern entering her voice. Bernard was standing next to Bianca and now tipped his riding cap to them from his position next to Bianca's desk. "Afternoon, boys. Go ahead and take a seat."
       Dale did so, taking the chair directly across from Bianca. Chip sat down next to him, and indicated to Dale that he should go ahead. "Thanks for seeing us. Bianca, something's come up in the last week that concerns you...and Gadget." Bianca looked at Dale with a twinge of curiosity. "Gadget? Is this concerning the marriage, Dale? I thought you both vere happy with the plans I'd arranged for you."
       "We're both happy as can be…about the marriage that is." Dale handed the birth certificate to Bianca. "We were happy about everything, up to the point where I found out that Gadget's birth certificate was faked and that the Hackwrenches weren't her true parents," Dale said, handing over the rest of the evidence.

       Bianca looked at the certificate, and then Dale showed her the Hackwrenches' birth certificates. She looked at them as Bernard walked over next to her and watched over her shoulder. She returned her gaze to Dale, revealing nothing but confusion. "Dale, are you sure you are not overreacting? It seems a mistake was made, but I am sure that there must be a reasonable explanation."
       Dale looked to Chip and he nodded, indicating that Dale should press on. "I had DNA tests done on hair samples of Gadget and her folks. You can see what it says right there - she wasn't related to Geegaw or Laura Hackwrench. The hospital records said Laura had a defect where she couldn't have children. Then we talked to Dr. Mavel, who signed the birth certificate."
       Dale paused and waited to see if that got any response from her. Chip smiled from the corner of his mouth. Dale had not directly accused her, but only let out things that she would understand. Bianca looked uncomfortable. "And what did he tell you?"
       "That you were the person who had him fake the birth certificate to hide Gadget's true identity. She's your daughter, isn't she?" Dale asked bluntly. Bianca gasped at the suggestion, and stood up. Bernard instantly stepped forward to protect his wife. "N..now wait a minute here, Dale. You can't..can't just come in here and accuse my wife of having an affair..."

       Chip knew he was going to have to run interference. "He wasn't accusing her of that. Dale just said that he believes your wife is Gadget's mother." Bernard couldn't believe anyone would accuse Bianca of such a thing. He stared at them, indignant. "Well she's not, is she Bianca.....Bianca?"
       Bianca looked at Bernard, obviously upset. Bernard looked at her in surprised shock, nearly whispering his reaction. "Bianca, you had an affair?" Bianca shook her head, trying to find the words. "No! No Bernard, it was nothing like that. And I am not Gadget's mother." Bianca sat back down, obviously greatly moved by what had happened.
       Dale leaned his hands on the front of Bianca's desk, knowing there was more. "Then why all this?" Bianca started to cry, and Chip pulled Dale back to his chair - whispering into his ear. "Don't push her too hard now. She's ready to talk. Just stay in your chair and keep cool."
       Bianca recovered herself some, and gave them both a genuinely morose look. "I...I made a promise not to tell. Please, do not force me to break my word." Dale calmed down and let his voice do the same. "Gadget's hurt bad by this discovery. She feels that people she loves and respects've been lying to her. She told me to tell you she loves you, no matter what the answer to this mystery. Please, help her."

       Bernard knew the boys had come for Gadget, and now he'd calmed down too. "I think you owe them an explanation, dear. Is it something so terrible that you can't tell them?" Bianca glanced reflexively toward the right at a picture on her desk, then looked down. "Gadget is the last person I vant to hurt, but if you knew the reason for the secret you would understand. Tell Gadget that I love her and always will, but the information she wants would come at too great a price. I'm...I'm sorry."
       Dale got up, walked to her desk and put his hand on the documents. He decided to make one last plea, and he did it as persuasively as he knew how. "Who are her mother and father? This'll eat her alive if she doesn't know. You're the only one who knows the truth."
       Bianca's eyes momentarily shifted to her right again, then she closed her eyes and shook her head. This time, Dale noticed her glance. In a bold move, he grabbed the picture and saw an image that stunned him. There was a woman who looked very similar to Bianca, holding a baby girl that was unmistakably recognizable to Dale.
       "Vhat are you doing? Put that down!" Bianca said, angered at once. Dale turned the picture to Bianca. "Who is the woman holding Gadget? Is that her mother?" Bianca held out her hand for the picture and Dale gave it to her. She looked at the couple lovingly. Bernard put his hand on her shoulder. "Bianca, he's right isn't he?"
       Bianca began to cry again and nodded, enfolding her arms around the picture. Bernard looked up at the boys. "We'll…go see Gadget. Just give us a few minutes, will you?" Dale relaxed, knowing the pressure was off. "We'll wait in the RangerWing for you."

       Chip followed Dale out, and they got into the RangerWing. "Dale, you've got the makings of a good detective," Chip said with approval. Dale slumped forward in his seat, breathing the biggest sigh of relief he ever had. "I can't believe I just did that! I reduced Bianca Râboga to tears."
       "You stood your ground and stayed alert. And noticing that picture was the topper," Chip said. Dale put his hands to the sides of his face, trying to comfort himself. "Yeah, but you would've handled it better than I did. I can't believe I did that..." Chip had noticed her eye movements too, of course, and if Dale hadn't made the move he would have. Still, it made him feel good to see Dale get it right. "Of course I'd have handled it better, because I've done it before. That's not the point, Dale. You can only learn by doing, and you did fine. Oh, here they come."       
       Chip and Dale got out and along with Bernard helped Bianca into the RangerWing. A short flight brought them to Ranger Headquarters. As they landed, Bianca was noticeably nervous, but Bernard's presence helped her. "I wish it had not come to this..." Bianca said, wiping her tears.

       They entered Ranger Headquarters, and Gadget stood as she realized Chip and Dale weren't alone. She instantly picked out Bianca's face, and saw her sadness and discomfort. Gadget walked right up to Bianca and hugged her. "Hello Bianca, thank you for coming." Bianca started to cry again, realizing the moment had come. "Gadget, your friends and Mr. Bernard have convinced me to come. Are you certain that you vish to know?" Gadget looked her in the eyes. "It'll haunt me to the grave if I don't learn the truth." Bianca shuddered at her choice of words, and opened a large handbag she had brought with her. From it, she pulled out a framed picture.
       "This is your mother, Gadget," Bianca said, handing over the picture. Gadget held it reverently. "She's beautiful...she kinda looks...like you! Who is she?" Bianca looked at the photograph with her. "Her name was Eva...Eva Râboga." Gadget looked at Bianca in stunned silence for a few moments, then smiled and hugged her again.
       "You really are family to me!" Gadget said, in pleased surprise. Monty was as amazed as any of them. "Crikey! Don't that take the cheesecake! So, you Gadget's aunt or somethin'?" Bianca nodded, looking up from the photo to Gadget. "You remember that some time ago I told you that I had a niece I loved very much. That was you. Eva was my sister." Gadget was too overcome by emotion and held Bianca tightly, letting the tears come.
       Zipper looked on in wonder. "Who would have ever guessed this? It's so amazing!" Foxy gave her a congratulatory hug. "You're so lucky Gadget, I envy you so much." Bianca held onto her niece and cried with her. "I know it must seem cruel that I did not tell you, but I was held back by a promise that your mother made me give the last time I saw her."

       Gadget instantly perked up at this news. "When was that? You keep saying 'was', is she still alive? What about my dad?" Bianca led Gadget to the sofa and all the others gathered around the two of them. "It has been many years since I last saw your mother, but sadly she no longer alive. To explain why will take some time. As for your father, I do not know who he is."
       Gadget hugged her again, her voice growing sad. "Thank you for telling me, Aunt Bianca..."
       "Vait, there is more," Bianca said. "I can tell you some things about your mother and of the last time I met with her. First, you should know that Eva and I were together only for a short time in childhood. I still have vague memories of those days, but your mother was so very intelligent. She could remember anything she read or heard at a very young age, but soon her knowledge and skills attracted her considerable attention."
       "But what happened to her?" Gadget asked. "Did her skills and all lead to her...death?"
       "Yes, dear. And the reason for that requires me to explain her life as much as I know of it. You see, your mother was recruited at a young age by the local leader of the worldvide organization known as R.O.D.E.N.T.S. - the Rodent ExterminatioN and Terrorism Squad," Bianca said, even then regretting it. A murmur went through the assembled group as Gadget stood up in shock at that news. Gadget's mother was an enemy agent?

       Dale helped Gadget back to her seat and held her hand, while Monty put a reassuring hand of his own on her shoulder. Gadget leaned toward Bianca. "Please, tell me more about her."
       "I know this must be unsettling to hear, but you have to realize that Hungary at the time was dominated by the socialist regimes," Bianca began. "Eva was seen as a commodity to further the R.O.D.E.N.T.S.' cause and this was seen as normal. At first, she accepted their doctrine and came to see those who did not have her level of intelligence as inferior and undeserving of consideration. I know, because when my parents decided to leave the country I managed to see Eva one last time. She was cold and unfeeling toward me, and it hurt me ever so much to see your mother that way. But that was just the beginning of the story."
       Dale was aghast at this. "You mean she served them willingly?!"
       "Yes, Dale," Bianca said. "She agreed with their ideology, which was to bring order from chaos. That seemed logical to her mind, as she told me then. As you all know, R.O.D.E.N.T.S. is no longer around. The years passed, and the leaders in her organization became more and more decadent. Eva slowly began to realize that there was no way for R.O.D.E.N.T.S.' ideology to be actualized. It was at that point that she began to plan her escape and the demise of the organization that she had worked for."
       Chip was glad to hear that Eva hadn't been all bad, for Gadget's sake. "But at what point in all this was Gadget born? And why can't you tell us anything about her father?" Bianca asked for a glass of water, and Monty hurriedly brought it to her. "I am not sure when you were born, Gadget. The date on your birth certificate is vhat I estimated for you. What I have just related to you all came from Eva's own words that she spoke to me. In a manner that I still do not know, Eva managed to get a message sent to one of our R.A.S.C.A.L. agents. She wanted to see me."

       Gadget saw how affected Bianca was and took her hands. Bianca smiled in kind, and began speaking again. "I was scared, and yet hopeful that she might defect. I traveled to my homeland for the first time since my parents had left it, and at the appointed hour she met me. She was a different person then, Gadget. She knew that she had made many mistakes in her life, and that many people had suffered for the way she had used the gifts she'd been given. I asked her vhy she had sent for me, and then I saw you for the first time. She was holding you, wrapped up in a blanket. I asked Eva the same questions you put to me, but she would not tell me who your father was and made me promise never to tell you anything about her. She vhas ashamed."
       Gadget looked down at the floor. "Ashamed of me?" Bianca lifted Gadget's head up. "Oh no, my dear! Never! She was ashamed of herself, of vhat she had become and of what she had allowed to happen. I can still remember how she said it, 'Bianca, my girl is the only part of myself untainted by my heinous past. If she stays with me, she vill become my replacement. I want her to be free, and to have the kind of happiness I cannot have.' Then I asked Eva if she was leaving R.O.D.E.N.T.S. and she said, 'No. It is too late for that. But I can at least make sure that they never rise again from the ashes.'"
       Gadget's head was swimming from all this. "Maybe my father was a R.O.D.E.N.T.S. agent who might have taken me away from her." Gadget felt numb. She was in anguish, but her face betrayed no emotion. She wanted this nightmare to end. She wanted to wake up and have this all be just a bad dream. Just a day ago she was planning her dream wedding and didn't have a care in the world, but now her entire life had been turned upside-down and her sense of self was in danger of falling apart.

       Bianca could sense this, and spoke some more. "I do not know who your father was, but from what Eva told me he was not a R.O.D.E.N.T.S. agent. Eva told me that after she been with them for five years, she had a hunger to see the world. Of course, her superiors would never have allowed her to leave, so she patiently planned a method to escape."
       Bianca asked for some more water, and Monty again obliged. "She did escape, and somewhere in her travels she met a mouse she fell in love with. I pressed her to tell me about him, but she seemed very protective of his identity. Eva had never been in the real vorld though, and the pressures of married life plus the stress of interacting with other people were too much for her. She only felt safe at the Institute, so she left her husband a short time after the wedding and returned. She found it very hard on herself to realize the organization she'd given her life to was not vorth it. And I know it was very hard on her to give you up."
       Gadget absorbed this new information, and could at least take some comfort in it. "So my dad doesn't even know he's a father, that's so sad." Bianca knew that it wasn't much of a help, but now inside she knew it was better that Gadget knew it all.        "That was the vhay she wanted it. She said she loved your father, but when she returned and later discovered she was pregnant it was already too late to do anything about it. She did not say so, but I still think if she had stayed out of the Institute longer and had known, that she might would not have returned there - but that is only my impression from how she spoke. To continue, after she gave me to you, Eva returned to the Institute as the R.O.D.E.N.T.S.' home base was called. There she put another plan into motion." Bianca said.

       The group's attention doubled as Bianca began to reveal what Gadget's mother's fate had been. "When R.O.D.E.N.T.S. was beginning to decline, she...seized her opportunity. She had sabotaged the Institute and had simply waited until the leaders had one of their top-level meetings there. That was the R.O.D.E.N.T.S.' last day."
       Chip couldn't imagine what would make a person do something like that. "But that seems so drastic, to destroy herself along with all of them." Bianca looked over at Chip. "I know it does, but if you had been there I think you vhould have understood. Eva's life was the Institute. It was all she knew, and once she had decided to destroy it she could not contemplate living without it. I am certain that was the thought that moved her, because she even left someone she loved to return to it. Now you know as much as I do about Eva."
       Bianca again turned her attention to her niece. "Gadget, I am terribly sorry I kept this from you but she made me promise and in some ways it was like a last request. Please don't judge me too harshly, my dear." Gadget hugged her gently. "I don't blame you...Aunt Bianca. It's important to keep a promise. So, making the false birth certificate was to hide me from the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. to prevent them from taking me back with them and molding me into a enemy agent? How did I end up with mom and dad?"
       "That was my doing as well," Bianca said, looking over at her husband. "This was before I met Bernard, and I was in no position to take care of you. I vhanted to, but I knew it was not possible. So I began to search and found a young married couple who had done some flying for me on a mission," Bianca said. Gadget left briefly and returned with Geegaw's picture.

       Bianca touched Geegaw's rugged face, and smiled as the memories returned. "The Hackwrenches were both very kind. They wanted a child, but Laura could not have children of her own. I felt I could trust them, so I laid out my plans. Once they saw you, they agreed at once. Geegaw was about to go to Europe to fly in the air races over there, so I helped them arrange to move there for two years. Once that time was over, they returned here with their new daughter. Every contingency seemed to have been covered, but obviously not all or you would not be here listening to me."
       Bianca took Gadget's hands again, and fought back the tears. "I know it must hurt you to hear this, my dear. It has hurt me for many years that you never knew dear Eva. I like to think that she could have been the good person you have become. I know that she vhould be happy that you have found some happiness in your life."
       "It's so difficult to accept all of this, but at the same time I don't feel so alone anymore," Gadget said. "I have a family again. You and...Uncle Bernard!" Bianca smiled and dried her tears. "Oh, that's right! Mister Bernard will be glad to know he has a niece to spoil. Don't tell him I told you, but he is really one big softie at heart."
       Gadget giggled, and Bernard grinned at his niece and winked. "I don't think that's such a big secret, but you're welcome in our family, Gadget." Gadget got up and hugged him. "Thank you. Can I call you 'Mr. Bernard' too?" Bernard looked at Bianca and she nodded. "Sure, and I'll even answer to it."

       Bianca rose and stood by her husband, and Gadget looked at them with gratitude. "Thank you for being honest with me. You've helped make this situation more bearable." Bianca nodded her appreciation, then remembered something else. "Dahling, I hesitate to even ask, but are we still on schedule for the vedding? If you need more time now, it is quite understandable..."
       "I don't know," Gadget said honestly. "I wanted it on the 27th, but now I'll need more time to get used to all of this." She took Dale's hand and smiled at him "But we're still on for the wedding. We'll wait just a little longer."
       Dale was relieved that she hadn't changed toward him, although that wasn't his greatest concern. "Take all the time you need, Gadget. I wouldn't feel right if you weren't happy about this. Plus, maybe we can find your real dad, now that we know about him!"
       Chip had already been mulling it over in his mind. "It won't be easy. All we have to go on is that he exists or existed. Even Sureluck Jones would find this one a challenge. But as you always say, Gadget, nothing is impossible, only improbable."

       Then Dale's attention turned to the picture in Gadget's hand. "C'mon, Gadget, let's have a look at your mom!" Gadget handed Dale the picture, and Dale looked at the face he'd only briefly seen before. "Hey, she looks almost just like Bianca! Well, I don't see much family resemblance there for you, Gadget. You must take after your dad's side." Dale handed the picture around to the others.
       Everyone made comments, including Zipper who noted how cute Gadget was as a baby. Dale giggled at that, which drew a momentary look from Gadget. The last one to see it was Monty. He smiled as he took the picture, but then the smile disappeared. The big Aussie got woozy, and reached for the back of the chair in front of him.
       Gadget was by his side in a moment. "Golly, are you okay, Monty?" Dale came over to steady him. "Maybe this was a big surprise for him too." Monty rubbed his forehead, and blinked as he looked at the picture again. "I'm...I'm all roight everyone. I think it's just the shock of the discovery and all..."
       Chip and Dale helped him into the chair and Bianca returned his earlier favor and got him some water. Monty drank the glass dry. "Thanks, mates. I don't roightly know what came over me. Guess ol' Monterey Jack ain't used ta such things happenin'. I'm feelin' better now, though." Once they were reassured of Monty's condition, the discussion returned to Gadget. "I always knew you were classy, Gadget," Dale said, "You've got class on your mom's side and I'm sure your dad's cool too."

       "If you need any help in locating him, I vill do what I can as well," Bianca offered. "I wish I had a clue to help your search, but Eva did not even tell me where she met her husband. The only thing I am fairly sure of is that he was not from Hungary." Gadget suddenly realized that Bianca might not be her only close relative. "So, you're my aunt. Do I have any other family-other aunts, or uncles, cousins, things like that?"
       "Vell, there is our son Edvard of course. I think you will like him, but he is the independent sort. There is Viktor and Ilsa Râboga, my mother and father and your grandparents. The two of them joined us when we left Hungary, but when they were getting older they decided to return and make their own lives there. Gadget, you must realize that the family was not told of Eva's pregnancy. It was assumed at the time that the family would not acknowledge it," Bianca said.
       "But should we even tell them? Is R.O.D.E.N.T.S. still a danger to me, even after all this time? And if we tell the rest of the family about me, would they reject me?" Gadget asked, rapid-fire.
       "Many things have changed since R.O.D.E.N.T.S. was disbanded, including many of the old taboos. I am sure that they would not reject you out of hand. If you vish, I can contact them for you and find out. Would you like that?" Bianca asked. Gadget wondered at her having to ask that question. "Yes! We can invite them to the wedding. Wow, it's so strange having relatives again."
       "Oh, and there is another as well. My brother Bela returned with mother and father. He was always the independent type like dear Edvard, but I think you will like him as well," Bianca said. Dale began snickering. "Uncle Bela, I bet he wears a cape..." Chip raised an eyebrow at Dale in disapproval. "Dale, it's not exactly a good idea to make fun of your soon-to-be wife's family members..." Dale caught himself immediately. "Yeah, your right. I'm sorry. I'm sure he's nothing like Bela Lugosi."
       Bianca only gave a giggle in return. "Oh, Bela always appreciated a good joke. Of course, there was that one time when someone insulted the snowman he made. I do hope the poor boy was finally able to free himself from that snowman after Bela dunked him in it."
       Monty was impressed with that feat. "Crikey! He must be 'bout as strong as me!" Bianca nodded. "Oh, the Râboga men are noted for being burly. I vill get in contact with them all, Gadget. I have not spoken to mother and father for several months, but they should be in good health still. I know that Bela will be. Hopefully you will have a family reunion and a vedding!"
       Dale was instantly caught up in the idea. "Wow, this is so neat! If only your dad could be here it'd be perfect!" That threw a damper on the conversation, and no one knew what to say for a few moments. Dale took Gadget's hand. "Sorry, Gadget. I shouldn't have said that."
       "That's okay, Dale," Gadget said. "You meant well, and I've got plenty of family to be glad about for now," Gadget said. Then Bernard came forward and hugged Gadget. "I'm glad you turned out to be part of our family. I haven't had a niece to spoil before."
       "Golly, Uncle Bernard, you don't have to spoil me. That'll be Dale's job soon enough." Gadget gave Dale a playful look. Bernard knew that look well from his own wife. "Gadget, you were welcome at our house before but now you're doubly so. You and Dale will have to come over and visit now and then." Bernard gave out a laugh. "Boy, that's the most I've said without hesitating in a long time!"
       Bernard shook Dale's hand, and Dale suddenly realized he was about to enter their family too. "Does this mean I can call you 'Uncle Bernie?'" Bernard frowned a little at that. "Let's not push it there, Dale. That sounds too much like a nickname I got in the outback one time."
       "Oh, okay. Uncle Bernard it is then," Dale said. Bernard smirked to show it wasn't personal and then led Bianca to the door. Before they could leave, Chip remembered his promise to Doctor Mavel. "Oh, one other thing! Dr. Mavel did help us and told us that you were involved. We agreed to speak on his behalf, and I for one think that he's an honest doctor that does a good job. Can you keep his secret so he's not fired?"
       "Dr. Mavel kept the secret well until now. I know he is an honest doctor, so I will not take any action," Bianca said.
       "Thanks. I think he's a good guy," Chip said. "Now you two'd better get going. Say, who gets to fly Bernard and Bianca back?" Monty stepped forward. "Well, I don't want ta split up the rest o' the gang. How's about me givin' ya both a ride home? I'd be moighty interested to hear about yer time down under."
       Bernard looked Monty over dubiously. "Sh..sure. You do know how to fly, don't you?" Monty slapped Bernard on the back.. "Mate, you don't know what you can do until ya try!" Bernard looked at Monty nervously, then turned to Bianca as the trio headed out the door. "C..couldn't we just catch the subway?"        Bianca knew that Monty was joking with them, and pitied her husband some that he'd never developed that sense. "Come on, my love. Vhere is you sense of adventure?" Bernard watched as Monty hopped in the pilot's seat. "I left it at the office."



Chapter 5 - A Spoonful of Sugar Helps The Reality Go Down

       As they headed through the skies over New York, Bianca and Monty swapped stories about Australia. Of course, Monty had been everywhere they'd been and more. He let them off at the U.N. and then instead of going home proceeded to the campus of N.Y.U. Monty found Sparky in his laboratory, and Monty's greeting made the already-nervy rat jump. "Einstein's ghost, you scared me!" Sparky exclaimed. Monty gave him a friendly jab on the shoulder that nearly knocked Sparky down. "Hello, Sparky mate! Say, I gotta ask a big favor."
       Sparky scratched his head, producing the usual results. "A favor? Well, I'll see what I can do. What do you need?"
       "Sparky, I need one o' them there DNA tests done on meself," Monty said. Sparky was beginning to think that's all he was going to be doing at this lab. "A DNA test? Are you concerned about contracting an inherited condition in your family? I'd suggest a regimen of antioxidants, followed by chelation. Works wonders for me!"

       Monty wondered for a moment if Sparky really was the one to see about this, but he didn't know anyone else to trust. Besides, he already had the other results. "Uh, no thanks mate. I need me genes compared to another set. Against the set you tested for Dale, ta be precise." Sparky began checking in his files. "For Dale? Oh yeah, the one about the parents and daughter. Did you need comparisons to all of them or just one?"
       "Just the daughter, lad. And let's just keep this between us, okay?" Monty asked.
       Sparky looked back at him. "Keep what?"
       "That's the spirit, mate!" Monty said. "About how long will it take for these tests? You gonna take a blood sample or some such?" Sparky's mind took a moment to catch up. "Oh, the DNA test. We can utilize a blood sample. However a skin sample or hair follicle will suffice. The test will take about three days." Monty rolled up his arm. "Take whatever ya need. I just wanna be sure about them results."
       Sparky picked up a pair of rodent-sized surgical scissors and cut off one of Monty's arm hairs and placed it in a specimen container. "Shall I call you when the results come in or would you rather come by and find out?"
       "I better stop by so I can get a copy o' the results for meself," Monty said.
       "What results?" Sparky asked.
       "The DNA test results, lad," Monty replied.
       Sparky slapped his forehead, creating a nice electrical arc. "Oh, right. Sorry, the electrical charges do stimulate the mind but they can sometimes scramble the output. Check back in three days, and I'll either have the results or I'll know when I'll have them. No problems." Monty shook Sparky's hand and received a mild shock. "Thanks again, lad. Yer a pal."
       "Okay, see you soon!" Sparky said, turning back to his work.
       Monty left the lab feeling almost euphoric. It was too much to believe that his expectations could possibly be true. The woman in that picture couldn't really be who he thought she was. It was too much to ask of life.
       "Still, it could be..."
       Back at headquarters, Gadget was feeling better now that she knew the truth, even though all of it wasn't nice. She'd spent almost the entire time talking to Dale, Chip, Foxy and Zipper. The talking for her was the main thing - as long as she could get the ideas into the open, it seemed to help. "I'd always wondered where my near-obsession to draw up blueprints came from. Dad never liked to do that. He did paint some, but it never translated over into his work. And mom couldn't draw very well. For that fact, neither of them had a mind-bashingly high IQ. I dunno, maybe I should have guessed."
       "Well, we know where your genius comes from," Dale said. "I wonder what you inherited from your dad? You must've picked up your looks from his side. They must all be ruggedly handsome or beautiful. Uh, not that the Râbogas aren't."
       Gadget pondered that question. "It could be. I seem so different from mom - Eva - in several ways. Except for the eyes and nose, I look different. I think different. I even have a different disposition. Well, the disposition could arguably come from upbringing though, and there's no way to know exactly how environmental factors affect that. Then again, there's a lot to be said for genetic factors...I wonder what else I might have inherited from my father?"
       "I don't know, but you turned out so good, it could only have been lots of good things," Foxy said.
       Gadget rested her head on her hands. "Golly, I hope he's nice. And alive of course."

       When Monty returned from the university, the next three days found him strangely quiet and thoughtful. The Rangers did take some notice, but Monty was easily able to pass it off as his reaction to everything that had happened. One time Zipper found him crying, and Monty said it was "for the family he never had." Zipper could feel that Monty was holding something back, but didn't push him. Then the critical moment came. Monty had put out breakfast for the Rangers and left them a note saying he'd be out all morning. The Aussie was on tenterhooks when he stepped into Sparky's lab at N.Y.U.
       Sparky was playing with a stethoscope at the moment, listening to his own heartbeat. Monty tapped the rat on the shoulder. "Hello, Sparky mate. What did them tests say?" Sparky quickly put the stethoscope away, fumbling it around.
       "Oh uh, hello Monty! What tests?" Sparky asked, as usual.
       "Them DNA tests of me fur that you were doin' against them same tests you did fer Dale. Do me and the daughter's genes match up?" Monty asked, wringing his hands.
       "Oh, those tests! Well now, let me see..." Sparky went to a file holder and pulled out two X-Rays. "I just finished yours this morning. I haven't had time to check it against the other one. Give me a few moments..." Monty paced nervously around the room waiting.
       "Chromosome patterns look good...the bars seem to line up. Monty, I've got good news and bad news," Sparky said. Monty felt like shaking, but he just stood there. "Okay, what's the bad news?"

       "The bad news is I've got to get my back adjusted. You know how you get when you've been leaning over for five hours and studying petri dishes in a microscope? Believe me, it does nothing for your sacroiliac. Well, and then there's..." Sparky started off naming the term for every vertebra in his back, and now Monty was sweating and wringing his hands.
       "Uh, Sparky? Could we leave off the bone lesson fer now? There's something more pressin' we need ta talk about, ain't it?" Monty said, trying to hint politely.
       "Well, I wasn't going to mention it, but I've been having these shooting pains up my spine, too. At first I attributed it to my shock therapy, but now I think it must be a pinched nerve. Oh, those vertebrae get out of line and they can do a doozy on you!" Sparky said matter-of-factly. Monty grabbed Sparky in a body hold and then with a single jarring motion adjusted his spine the way that the old Tibetan tiger of Shao Lin had taught him. "There! Now, how about them blinkin' test results?!"

       "Wow, that was real action without thought!" Sparky said. "Say, I'll have to start coming to you for adjustments. Oh, the test results? That's the good news - well, as long as you're not about to owe someone child support or something. You're a father!"
       Monty jumped for joy, yelling like a rabid soccer fan whose team finally scored a goal. "YAAAAAAA-HOOOOOOOO!" Monty gave Sparky a bone-crushing bear hug. "I'm a dad! She's me little girl!!" Sparky doubled over. "Oh, my back! Who's your little girl?" Monty danced the aching rat around the room. "Gadget's me daughter! She's moine!! I'm her dad!!" Sparky squinted through the shooting pain. "Gadget? Wow, that's amazing!"
       Sparky rubbed his lower back. "Say, could you hug me again before you go?" Monty gave Sparky's spine another adjustment. "Sparky, yer a miracle worker. We all owe ya big toime!" Sparky breathed in relief again. "Ah, that's better. Say, are you guys going to have any more DNA work done in the near future? I could use a break."
       "Not that I can think of pally, but keep the results handy. Ya never know when they'll be o' use again. I gotta run, Sparky. I gotta tell me daughter that I'm her dad!"
       Monty bolted from the room and flew the RangerWing like a maniac as he headed for the tree. When he got there he burst through the door and looked around. "Gadget luv, you here?" Dale came in from the kitchen with a bowl of popcorn. "She'll be back soon, Monty. Anything I can help you with?"
       "No, lad. But I got somethin' I need to talk ta her about. Whatcha doin'?" Monty asked. Dale set the bowl of popcorn on a small table that was beside the sofa and picked up Gadget's notepad she'd gotten from Bianca. "Working on the guest list."
       Monty had a sudden thought. "Say Dale, by any chance is yer Aunt Agnes goin' to be at the weddin'?" Dale's head popped up at his question. "You know my Aunt Agnes? I sure hope she will. She and Uncle Percy and their kids are great!" Monty patted Dale on the shoulder, hiding his disappointment, and walked out of the room. The Aussie went to his room and uncovered a secret compartment in the floor. In the small space was an envelope and beside it was a watch chain. He picked them both up, putting the letter in his pocket and then he opened the locket on the end of the chain to reveal the picture of a beautiful redheaded chipmunk. "Well Agnes luv, it's gonna be good to see ya again even if ya are taken. An' I'll have me daughter to introduce to ya, to boot," Monty said.
        Then sudden realization hit Monty like a ton of bricks. "She's gone. Me wife's dead..." Monty put away the locket and went into Gadget's room upstairs where the picture of Eva was. He touched her face gently. "I'm sorry fer thinkin' of Aggie first, luv. It's just that I gave her up once so's I could stay faithful. I'm sure ya know that."
        Gingerly, he picked up the frame and looked closely at the mother and daughter. "You were a roight bonzer lass, you were. I kin see where Gadget got a lot of her looks from ya. Still, she's got a lot o' Erskine in her too."
        Monty suddenly put the glass right up to his nose, his voice pleading with the girl in the picture. "Why didn't ya let me know somehow, Evelyn? I would'a kept yer secret! I'm roight glad ta know it now, and I'm more glad that the girl I've been lookin' after all this time's the one I should've been lookin' after." Monty hugged the picture, then set it down and started back downstairs, wiping the tears from his face.       

       Gadget had been out on one of her scavenging expeditions to the junkyard. She was grateful that Dale was being so understanding about her need to keep up with her inventing. Gadget was the kind of person that wasn't happy unless she was doing something, and for her the constant work was more reward than anything. Plus, it took her mind off her problems. She'd liked the challenge of painting as well, and she thought that she'd ask Dale about another session as she stepped in the door.
       "Hi, everyone! I'm back!" Gadget said.
       Monty had been waiting on the sofa for her return, glad that Dale had gone on into Gadget's workshop to clean his paintbrushes. Monty clutched the test results tightly in his hands. He wanted to hold her and tell her everything, but he was nervous. What if having him for a father would disappoint her? All her smarts had come from her mom's side. Still, he wanted her to know the truth and to fill any empty places in her heart.
       "Uh, Gadget luv, could I talk to ya for a minute?" Monty asked. Gadget came over, now in an even better than usual mood since she'd been doing something she enjoyed. It showed in her face, and she looked at Monty with a radiant smile. "Sure, Monty. What is it?" Monty patted the seat beside him. Gadget sat next to him, her smile still there.
       "Gadget, there's somethin' that I gotta tell ya. I just got the answer to the missin' piece o' the puzzle o' yer life... I..." Monty stopped, not exactly sure how to proceed. Gadget looked at Monty expectantly. He seemed very stirred up about something. "Monty, are you all right?"
       "Well sorta, Gadget...it's...I...Gadget luv, I just discovered who yer real dad is..." Monty managed, as tears began to run down his cheeks. Gadget stared at him in a mixture of fear and wonder, but misinterpreted Monty's emotions and assumed the worst. "Is he...is he dead? Oh, no…" Gadget took Monty's hand, and covered her eyes with her other one. "Please Monty, I have to know. Don't hold it back!" Monty gently took hold of Gadget and set her on his lap and then gently moved her hand away from her eyes. He took her face in his hands, then looked into her eyes.

       "Gadget luv, I just got the test results...I'm yer dad," Monty said. Gadget's mouth dropped open and she gasped in total surprise. She studied his face, and knew he wasn't lying. She tried to speak, but ended up whispering as tears started to fall from her too. "You're my...but why didn't you tell me before? Didn't you love me?" Gadget asked plaintively. Monty's reply was just as plaintive. "Aw Gadget, yer the most special and wonderful thing that's ever been in me loife! I didn't know until about an hour ago that I was yer dad. Yer mom had ya and I never knew until now."
       Gadget's brain put the pieces together almost instantly. "A DNA test? You tested yourself. Then you and Eva....no wonder you almost fainted when you saw her picture! Oh, Monty!" Gadget hugged Monty and cried tears of joy. Father and daughter cried together, then Gadget looked up at him again. "Tell me what happened between you and mom." Monty rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, it all started back when Ol' Monterey…uh, yer dad…was a young lad. I never thought I'd tell this ta you or anyone, but now it's a tale worth tellin'."

       Monty's eyes looked far off, and Gadget could almost see him looking back into the past. He'd tried not to think of his wife too much in the past few years, but the images were still there if he concentrated. Now they came back vividly, and as Monty began to tell his story an image began to form. Monty was indeed quite a bit younger and thinner. The wild country that surrounded Nairobi, Kenya, provided a vast resource of tourist trade for those who knew the area. Monterey Jack had spent the last year touring this country, making friends (and a few enemies) along the way. Now he was a tour guide on a photo safari, waiting at the local office for the next group to come in. One of the native mice named Gabarah was his partner, and now that very mouse walked into the fan-cooled room
       "Monty Jack, another group approaches. Be here in five minutes about," Gabarah said, in clear English but with a heavy native accent. The dark brown mouse was wearing a blue, traditionally embroidered dashiki shirt - a lightweight shirt with no collar and wide sleeves ending a foot before the wrist and extending to the knees - and an embroidered kuffi hat ending just above his ears - a cloth hat resembling a crown somewhat with colors that matched the shirt and had similar embroidering at the base.
       Monty stretched and jumped out of his hammock. "Thanks mate. More stuck up city folk slummin' in the wilds." Gabarah was a close friend to Monty and they often spent their off-hours exploring and trading stories. Monty liked Gabarah's tendency to call him 'Monty Jack'. It was a product of his limited English, but typical of the tribemouse's eccentricities.
       "You not like guide duty, Monty Jack? Maybe you go away soon?" Gabarah asked. Monty put on his flight cap and his oilskin coat. "I'm a ramblin' mouse. Don't get me wrong-the pay's good and yer a bonzer friend, but I hear the call o' the open road and maybe it's toime I answered it, mate."
       Gabarah look concerned. "You will go, then? Maybe you will let Gabarah travel with you?" Monty slapped Gabarah on the back. "I'd be roight delighted ta have ya by me side, mate, but give me a little while ta think about goin' or stayin'."

       "Gabarah thinks you will have some time now. Tourist group is here," the native mouse said, pointing outside. Gabarah and Monty went outside as a rodent-sized land rover pulled up to the thatch hut that served as their headquarters. Monty was getting bored, and the wanderlust had been calling for several weeks. Still, the job paid well and Monty had gotten used to eating regularly. At the same time, he knew he'd about reached his limit. Seven tourists got out of the rover - a middle-aged British couple, an American photojournalist, three members of the French Geographical Society, and a girl. She was last to get out, and Monty walked over to help her out of the rover. Then he saw her face.
       Monty put an arm on Gabarah's shoulder to steady himself and whispered, "Better call Heaven and ask if there's an angel missin'." Gabarah smiled at his companion's reaction, but had to admit it could be warranted. The young female mouse getting out of the rover was beautiful. Her blue eyes provided a striking contrast to her pink nose, light-colored fur and the khakis and pith helmet she was wearing. The lady seemed somewhat hesitant to come forward, but she finally did so and walked right up to Monty.
       "I am Evelyn Connors. Are you the tour guide?" she asked. Monty stared at her dumbly for a few moments. "Uh...yeah! I'm the tour guide in these here parts. Monterey Jack Erskine at yer service, ma'am!" Monty kissed her hand. Evelyn blinked at the gesture, but didn't pull her hand back. "How...kind. Do you think we will see any elephants? I am particularly interested in studying their nonverbal herding communication."
       "We certainly will, but we usually don't get too close to 'em. They're nice folk and all but a bit clumsy, so it's best fer those our size not to be around 'em all up close and personal loike. We'll see all kinda wondrous things. Besides, there's lots more to Africa than just elephants," Monty said.

       Evelyn studied Monty with a critical eye from head to toe. She was surprised at how open this mouse was. Most of the people she'd met so far were polite, but distant. This Australian was anything but distant. "I am not intimidated by them. But I would like to see some zebra as well, and study the territorial habits of the lioness. It is unique, is it not, that the lioness hunts while the lion rests? Perhaps there is a lesson in that for us."
       Monty had no idea what she was talking about, but smiled and nodded. "Well, fer you we'll see anythin' ya wanna see. I'll introduce you to a couple o' zebra I know and ya can get to know 'em real good."
       "Very good. Looks like your bearer is ready," Evelyn said.
       Gabarah returned from packing the tourists' supplies on the young warthog they'd recruited for that purpose and told Monty that they were all set to go. Monty took the lead, and soon they were trekking through the savannah. He gave the tourists the grand tour, but he made extra effort to accommodate all of Evelyn's requests, even introducing her to a lioness he knew.

       The group camped for the night, and Monty found himself losing concentration. Every minute, he'd try to steal a glance at Evelyn, and keep up his duties of looking for predators and setting up the tents. She noticed his eyes on her once, but didn't seem to acknowledge it. Monty was a little disappointed, but still he was determined to make an impression on the girl.
       "Mr. Erskine, could you come over here, please?" Evelyn said suddenly. Monty quickly made a beeline to her. "Yes, luv?" Evelyn pointed to the tent she was setting up. "I was vondering if you could show me the proper way of tying down this tent rope, dahling. I tried a square knot and a clove hitch and neither seems to hold properly."
       "Never fear, ol' Monty'll show ya how it's done," Monty said with bravado. He proceeded to show her how to secure a tent rope. "See, nothin' to it. You got everything ya need fer camp? If ya need anythin' just ask me and by hook or by crook I'll get it fer ya."
       Evelyn looked at him with a superior lien. "I believe I can handle it from here, Mr. Erskine. But thank you for 'showing me the ropes'. As for the rest, I have no need for you to perform deeds in a masculine attempt to gain my favor. Simply perform your duties, dahling, and we will get along fine." Evelyn entered her tent, leaving Monty flat on his heels. "Okay luv, if that's the way that'll get me there then so be it." Monty walked off, humming happily to himself.
       Come morning, Eva opened her eyes to find the sun squinting at her through the trees of the savannah. It was a little cooler than she'd expected, but now her circulation was going again and the sounds of the many animals were flooding in through the tent.
       "The tropical environment is certainly a change. Now I wonder just how long it will be before mister larger-than-life tries to impress me again. Probably as soon as I step out the door..." Eva dressed, making sure that no animals had taken up residence in her hiking boots. Then she stepped out into the world and Monty was beside her in a flash. "Mornin' luv! What would ya like fer breakfast? How do ya like yer coffee...or do ya like tea instead?
       "Thank you for your zealous offer, Mr. Erskine, but there is no need for such grandstanding. I take my coffee black, two sugars. And some cheese, if you please," Evelyn said. Monty was all smiles. "Comin' right up, luv. I hope ya don't mind musk ox cheese though." Monty hurried off to prepare her breakfast

       Eva watched him go, with a mixture of derision and humor. She'd never had anyone quite so willing to wait on her-oh, she'd been waited on but before it was necessity. This big fellow was doing it in hopes of catching her eye. Eva took a seat by the campfire and pulled out a notepad, as she began writing down all the Latin names of the various flora around her.
       Shortly Monty returned with her breakfast. "Here ya go, luv. The best food yer gonna foind out 'ere in the wilds o' Africa! An' moight I say yer looking very nice this mornin'. Most tourists are a froight after a night or two out here, but…well, the outdoors and the wilds suit ya, if ya don't mind my sayin' so."
       Eva smiled a little in spite of herself. She hadn't had a real compliment in ages, and this mouse was more eloquent than she'd expected. "I don't mind. You are quite an accomplished orator, Mr. Erskine. I would hardly have expected that from your…eccentric appearance. Tell me, dahling, will we be encountering the pachyderms this morning?"
       Monty was delighted by her compliments and smiled widely. "You betcha! I'll introduce ya to Jumbo, the biggest elephant there is. He'll get a kick outta meetin' such a lady o' fine quality as you."
       "If you can-how does one say-schwing it, then I will be well on my way to completing my mammalian studies. I will say this for you, Mr. Erskine, you are a persistent fellow. Have you always been so forward?" Evelyn asked.
       "Only when there's a good cause," Monty replied, a twinkle in his eye.

       Evelyn shook her head in wonderment at his up-frontness and returned to take down her tent. Monty went to check on his friend and see how they were progressing towards leaving. Gabarah gave him a meaningful look. "So, how is the progress with the young lady?"
       "Well, it's slow goin' fer now, but I'm makin' a little headway. Slow and steady wins the race," Monty said. Gabarah's eyes shined with pleasure. "Ah! I see the thinking in your head, Monty Jack! You think, 'maybe this one I can get serious with'. I think maybe you right." Monty blushed a little. "Well, she outclasses me in the class department, but opposites attract. At least I hope they do in this case."
       "My father, he say, 'Gabarah, you treat lady like you want her to treat you.' Gabarah would treat her like any other lady," the native said bluntly.
       "Well, most ladies I meet ain't this classy. I don't know, maybe it's that accent o' hers - it's beautiful and she's beautiful as well. I'll just do me best," Monty said.
       Gabarah finished packing up one tent and moved on to the next one. "She has eyes for you, Monty Jack. I see it now when she comes with her tent. You be smart, and maybe she brightens up around you."

            Gabarah smiled a toothy grin, showing off his perfect teeth and went on his way. Monty turned around, not sure what to expect. Eva was holding out her tent pack, with a look that appeared anything but friendly. Still, Monty remembered Gabarah's words.
       Monty rushed to her side. "Let me help ya with that, luv." Eva's stubborn streak hit, and she walked right by Monty giving him the cold shoulder. She jumped up on the makeshift stairs they'd tied to the warthog and then up onto the cargo and observation area. It was mostly twigs tied together tightly to form a guardrail around a short wooden plank that served for the tourists to stand on. Eva tied her pack on the growing pile. Then the warthog jerked suddenly and she lost her balance, falling backwards.
       "Heeeeeelp!" Evelyn yelled as she tottered over the guardrail and fell. Monty leaped and caught her in his arms. "Never fear when Monty's around, luv!" Eva was embarrassed, knowing that everyone was looking at her. The other tourists applauded as Monty nodded his thanks.
       "Your...heroics are appreciated, Mr. Erskine. I was shtubborn to have refused your help. In the future, I will avail myself of it. Now put me down, if you please," Evelyn said. Monty had momentarily lost himself in the romance of the moment. "Oh yeah! Sorry about that, luv." Monty blushed and put her down, then turned to the warthog. "Pumbaa, you owe this 'ere lady an apology, she might'a been hurt!" Pumbaa looked very apologetic. "Gee, I'm sorry, lady."
       "That's quite all right. Now we'd best be going. The sub-tropics are notorious for heating up quickly, and I've quite a bit I vish I see today," Evelyn said, all business-like.
       "No problem, luv. You name it and I'll see that ya see it," Monty said.
       The tourist group saw much during the morning hours. Cameras flashed incessantly at lions, apes, hyenas, giraffes, zebras and the like. Monty had a story to go with each animal, and most of the tourists oohed and aahed at the colorful tales. Eva listened but seemed inaccessible despite Monty's best efforts. Then just after lunch at a watering hole, they came upon the elephants.
       Monty got out and stood in front of the group. "Ladies and gentlemen, please remain with the warthog. If ya go roamin' around, the elephants kin be a bit dangerous, seein' how they might step on ya and I forgot to bring me spatula today..." The tourists laughed as Gabarah sidled up to Monty. "The herd is restless today. Maybe not good day to be stopping long."
       As the others waited by the warthog, Evelyn's patience wore thin. Unseen by the others, she slipped off and ran behind a small rock. From there, she began taking notes then began a series of quick runs to other rocks, always coming closer to the herd. On the third time, Gabarah happened to catch her in his peripheral vision.
       "Monty Jack, I see something moving on the right! Looked mouse size," Gabarah said. Monty looked in the distance and saw Evelyn peeking at the elephants. "Hang on, mate. Looks like I got some work ta do. Be back in a jiff."
       Monty took a good look where Gabarah pointed to and began making his way to Evelyn's location. When he got there, he remembered to whisper so as not to spook the herd. "Luv, I told ya not ta go runnin' off. It's downroight dangerous. Come on back where it's safe!" Evelyn tried to wave him off. "You're being foolish, Mr. Erskine. I vill return in a few minutes, but first I must continue my observation of the herd..."

       Unfortunately, the lead bull of the herd saw Evelyn's movements. Now the idea that elephants are scared of mice is purely legend. However, even a creature the size of Evelyn can set off one of the big beasts if it's bothered. And this one was very bothered. The bull trumpeted and flared its ears threateningly. Monty picked her up and began running toward the warthog. "Sorry luv, but yer observations've gotta wait. Pumbaa, start yer engine, lad!"
       Too late. The beast charged, and the ground trembled as if an earthquake had struck. Monty wasn't fully prepared for the jostling, and he fell and dropped Evelyn at the same time. Evelyn regained her feet, and her face was absolute terror as the elephant's beady eyes glared red. Her mind tried to keep her composed but from within came a terrible shriek instead, which came out as a loud plaintive cry. Monty regained his feet to see Evelyn transfixed at the image of the trumpeting creature bearing down on them both.
       Monty again took her in his arms and whisked her out of the way of the closest elephant, but there were many others to worry about as well now. "Maybe next time you'll listen when I warn ya not to go wanderin' off…" The emotion of the moment had Evelyn trembling in his arms, she was so shattered. Tears came easily now, and she gripped his neck with a strength that Monty wouldn't have credited such a delicate-looking creature with. "Please, just get me out of this!"

       Filled with even more determination than before, the Aussie raced around and under the panicking pachyderms. He saw Pumbaa carefully trot out toward them and when Monty reached him, Pumbaa scooped them up with his tusks and hightailed it out of there as fast as his hooves could carry him. Soon they were all safe, back with the sightseers.
       "Well, I certainly wouldn't want to make a habit out o' doin' that. You okay, luv?" Evelyn had closed her eyes through most of what had happened, and her breathing was very fast. She was crying, and Monty was amazed at her sudden transformation. Then she opened her eyes, and saw him looking at her. She stopped trembling and hugged him. Then she took his face in her hands and kissed him. When it ended she smiled that small smile she had and blushed.
       "Yes, I think I am okay now," Evelyn said.
       Monty was too stunned to respond at first. "Well, uh, I'm glad ta hear it. We kin come back later if ya want, they should be calmed down a bit by then." Monty chuckled, "Well, this should be a little somethin' fer the tourists ta remember."

       Evelyn looked around, and saw that all the others were watching and smiling. She blushed a little more, but found that she didn't mind it so much as she did the first time. Gabarah was smiling the most, with his big toothy grin. Then Evelyn returned her gaze to Monty, and now her voice was kind and smooth. "I think you can put me down now, dahling..."
       "Sorry about that again, luv. Yer welcome, it was all me pleasure...uh..." Monty suddenly felt a rush of nervousness, so he quickly turned and patted the warthog on the nose. "Good work, lad. Ya saved our hides out there. So, everybody ready to see the alligators?"
       Evelyn knew she'd made him nervous, which seemed strange in light of how bold he'd been. She stayed close to him, and when he'd look at her in the cart she'd smile back. Gabarah elbowed him slightly as they got underway. "Gabarah has seen many things, but never see cold turn to warm that quickly. Her mask she wears, it fell off."
       "Well, so did mine, mate. The ol' Erskine charm ain't ever worked that well before. Okay, she's...kindly disposed toward me, that's a start. I'll just keep it nice and easy," Monty said. Gabarah laughed like a mouse that knew how, and slapped Monty on the back. "She will make you good wife."

       Monty hoped Evelyn hadn't heard him, and spoke low through this teeth. "Whoa now! It's a moite early t'be makin' plans like that. I just met the lady yesterday. Marriage...that's a long way down the line yet. She's just a visitor here, and she's likely got a classy home far away somewhere. She don't strike me as the mousewife type." Gabarah smiled knowingly. "I see what you do not. I see her look at you, I see you look at her. My thoughts say, 'mouse and wife.' It will happen, Monty Jack. It will happen."
       "We're too young fer settlin' down," Monty protested. Gabarah smiled the more. "You think you too young. The mouse she smile at, she not think he too young. Mouse and wife." Monty found himself cringing, and made himself stop. "Well, you keep that to yourself fer now, mate. I don't want her hearin' ya talkin' like that." Monty could hear Pumbaa chuckling and leaned over toward his ear. "That goes for you too, lad."
       "No problem, Romeo...uh, I mean Monty. My hips are sealed," Pumbaa said, as he began chuckling again. Monty shook his head, "That's lips, lad. And they'd better be."
       The remainder of the day went well, and when they pitched their tents again the tourists all gathered at the fire. Monty and Gabarah took turns telling them of tales of myth, triumph and tragedy that had them all riveted. Evelyn sat next to Monty, and paid rapt attention to him. When the stories ended, the other tourists entered their tents. Evelyn had stayed behind, and waited while Monty made sure the camp was secure.
       "Monterey, are those stories you tell all true?" Evelyn asked, trying not to sound over-interested. Still, Monty couldn't help notice that for the first time she called him by his first name. "Call me Monty, luv. And sure, those stories are all true - well, maybe a tad o' polish on 'em, but just a little here and there."
       Evelyn edged closer to him on the log they were sitting on, and Monty realized they were alone. She watched the flames slowly consume their fuel, and the glow accentuated the contours of her face. "Monterey, I...behaved badly before. I suppose I had a preconceived notion of what you vhere and I was not ready for any hocus-pocus from anyone. But you have turned out to be a nice gentlemouse."
       "And yer a moighty refined lady. I kin understand how ya wouldn't think much o' the likes o' me, bein' so common and all," Monty said. Evelyn was still amazed at his openness. "I think you are anything but common...Monty. Now tell me, why do I find you here in the African sub-tropics? You are quite far from home."
       Monty had brought some marshmallows, and they both fixed up sticks with them. Monty started to toast his. "Well, I'm a wanderer, just like me mum an' dad. I'm never in one place fer too long. There's always the call ya know - the call ta discover whatever mysteries are waitin' on the other side o' the horizon."
       Evelyn lightly browned her marshmallow and began eating it. "It sounds vunderful. I have not been to many places in my life. In fact, this is my first trip away from...away from home. What are your parents like, Monty?"
       "Well, they're wanderers loike me. None of us kin stay in one place fer long. Mum's the sensible one - well, moreso than dad anyway. Dad now, he's a headstrong fella that believes that you should act before ya think. Gotta say I take a lot after 'im. They're both great, but the only problem with us all bein' wanderers is that we don't get ta see each other much…and when ya make friends, it hurts when ya leave 'em an' ya go out on the road again."

       Evelyn had suspected that Monty's family meant a lot to him, and now she knew it did by the way he'd looked and spoken. It pulled at memories she'd long since laid aside as she watched him eat his burnt treat. "I noticed that British couple seemed very captivated with us. It was almost like they were spies or something. Do you know anything about the spy organizations?"
       Monty finished off his marshmallow, smacking his fingers. "Naw. I'm too busy to worry about things loike that. What are the odds o' me gettin' tangled up with any o' that cloak and dagger stuff?" Evelyn did the best she could not to let her face show anything. "I have heard some things about the organization known as R.O.D.E.N.T.S. They say they aspire to bring order to a chaotic world…"
       "Well, I've 'eard that name toime to toime, and never in a good way. The world ain't a perfect place an' about the only thing that'll make it worse is people dim enough ta think that they got all the answers. They'll make a mess o' the world like so many other blokes have, and it'll fall ta people like us ta put the world back together from the wreckage groups like that one make. I'd say just steer clear o' them. Nothin' good could come o' them."
       Eva didn't say anything for a while. She just stared at the fire. "And do you think that the vorld is worth keeping from a mess like that?"
       "Sure, life's loike a beehive. If ya don't go and bother it, it don't bother you. But if you throw stones at it then yer gonna get hurt," Monty said, selecting another marshmallow. Evelyn politely refused when he offered her another. "So you try to stay out of other people's way. But what about when they get in your vhay?"
       Monty rolled up his sleeves and punched his fist. "Then I show 'em that Monterey Jack don't tolerate troublemakers makin' trouble." Eva had to chuckle at that. "No, I don't think you do. There is one other thing I was curious about. When you leave here - if you leave here, vhould you consider taking on a traveling companion? Even a sophisticated one?"

       Evelyn looked into his eyes purposefully, and Monty was startled by the implication. "Uh, I don't know. I've never had a travelin' companion before…least not a lady one." Evelyn had now locked onto him with those blue eyes of hers. "I suppose it was forward of me to ask, but the safari will be over tomorrow and then things will be different. Monty, I have never....never kissed a man before today, or been kissed by one. I have been alone, apart from others most of my life. I think I vhould like to...be close to you."
       She touched his hand, and Monty froze. This was going way to fast for him. "Now don't get me wrong, luv, but I think this is movin' a bit quick fer my likin'. I ain't never been kissed like that either, but...but...yer eyes, they're the most amazin' shade o' blue...uh, what I meant was that we hardly know each other. After all, we only met a couple o' days ago and we're from two different worlds...blue, like the Nile at dusk...uh, help me out here, luv. What little sense I got ain't helpin' me."
       Evelyn smiled and patted his face. "Don't be nervous, Monty. I wasn't asking you to join me in my tent. But you are one of the kindest people that I have known. I vill not rush you, but what I am asking now is...when the safari is over tomorrow do I have a reason to stay around?"
       Monty took in a deep breath and gave it a minute's serious thought. He nodded. "Yeah, there's always a reason t'be around. Stick with me and I'll show ya the world, things you ain't never gonna see nowheres else and do things ya never imagined were possible! If we stick together, there's no tellin' what the future might hold for us." Evelyn snuggled close to him, and moved his arm so it was around her. "I vhas hoping you might say something like that…dahling."

       Monty looked over at Gadget's amazed face. "When the safari was over, Eva stayed with me. The bond between the lass and me grew with each wonderful day. All me thoughts were about her, and at the end of two joyous weeks, we decided ta get married. An ordained missionary was just a day away, an' with good ol' Gabarah standin' at me side, we said our vows." Then Monty's countenance changed. "Fer me, it was the best time 'o me loife. I thought it was fer Evelyn...er, Eva too, and she seemed as happy as me. But then one day I woke up an' found this 'ere letter next ta me."
       Monty slipped his hand inside his jacket and brought out an envelope. Gadget took the letter and read the short note as Monty recounted the words he'd engrained in his mind.       

       My darling,
       It pains me, but despite the happiness you have given me I realize now that I have made a mistake. Do not blame yourself. I simply have a life that I cannot abandon with my work now all too undone. I will always remember the gallant mouse that saved me from the elephants and taught me some things about myself that I won't soon forget.
       Do not bother to look for me. You will never find me, unless I want to be found.
       Your wife,

       Gadget looked up at Monty in sympathy. "And to think that of all the people in the world she found you. Golly, I'm sure glad it turned out this way. Well, I'd have liked it better if I'd known sooner but it's better than knowing later. Oh double golly, this also means that you just learned she died too! But what did you do once she was gone? How long did you look before you decided to give up?"
       Monty looked pained, and put the letter away. "I've never stopped lookin', Gadget luv. Every time we've gone on a case, I've kept an eye out for her. As it turned out, Eva was usin' a phony name and I didn't even have a picture of 'er. I kin still remember the first toime I saw Bianca's picture in the paper an' thought she was Eva. Then I took a good look, and chalked it up to coincidence." Monty picked up Eva's picture again. "It was like she had dropped off the face o' the earth. It's been a bloomin' burden I've carried with me a long time and it's caused me a lot o' heartache over the years - wonderin' why she left me, wonderin' what I did ta drive her away."
       Gadget touched her father's cheek, wiping a tear away. "Gosh, if Dale up and left me like that I don't know what I'd do. And you never knew that she was working for a rogue organization all that time. Is that why you never married again?"
       "Well, it just didn't feel roight, the idea o' gettin' married when I was already married to a gal, even though she'd gone off so many years before," Monty said. "I just couldn't let go. Once, I missed out on marryin' a real wonderful lady...and I ain't talkin' about Desiree. But now that I know what happened to yer mum, I kin finally close the book on that chapter o' me life."
       Monty looked down at his girl with fatherly favor. "But no matter how much heartache I've had over this, knowin' that you were the result o' that marriage, it was worth everythin'." Gadget suddenly perked up at a thought. "I just realized something! I'll have my father to give me away at my wedding! Jeepers, now I'm Gadget Râboga Hackwrench Erskine. Any more names and I'll have to rent a billboard! But I'm glad to add that one in, just the same."
       Gadget hugged him again. "So what do I call you? Monty...dad...." Monty's eyes sparkled in a way they hadn't in a long time. "Geegaw was yer proper dad and he should have the honor o' that title. You can call me Monty like always, but maybe now and then call me dad, just when I need a little pick me up. An' what should I call you, lass?"
       "Just Gadget, like always I guess. You can call me by my full name when you need to get my attention, but you'd better take a deep breath before you do!" Gadget joked. Monty put one of his huge hands to his forehead. "Crikey! I just realized, this makes me mom and dad yer grandpa and grandma! Wait'll they find out that my grand daughter is their granddaughter!"
       Gadget smiled with satisfaction at the thought. "Kate and Cheddarhead-I think they'll definitely liven up the wedding. We'll have to make sure they're here for the wedding now! Somehow, I can just picture Uncle Bela and Cheddarhead hitting it off from the start. Oh, I've got so much family now it's marvelous! We've got to tell someone. Dale, are you here?!"

       Moments later Dale came in from the kitchen, holding a notepad. "Yeah, I'm here Gadget. What's up…" Dale looked up to see Gadget still seated in Monty's lap. Gadget waved her arms in joy as she spoke. "Dale, I have the greatest news! Monty's a father!"
       The note pad fell from Dale's hand. "Uh...congratulations...I guess..." Gadget looked at Dale in momentary confusion, then realized what she'd said. "Oh not that way, silly! He's my father!" Dale dropped the pencil to let it join the pad and felt like dropping himself with the wonder of that surprise. "What?! How?! Really?! Wow!!"
       Monty lifted Gadget and set her down next to Dale as he came over. "Rest a moite an' I'll tell ya about it..." He gave Dale a similar account that he'd told Gadget, leaving out only the more personal details. "Guess I did the plumb roight thing giving my permission to ya, Dale. Nice ta know it was comin' from Gadget's father, eh?"
       Dale was thunderstruck with wonder and excitement. "Zowie, this is amazing! Uh, Monty...now that Gadget's your daughter, I guess it's only right that I ask this. Monty, I'd like your official permission to marry your daughter."
       Monty stroked his chin, as if making up his mind. "Well, since ya put it that way...sure, pally. An' it'll be roight nice havin' you fer a son-in-law too. Kinda felt like you were a son ta me anyway, so now it'll jus' be legal-loike." Dale took Gadget's hand in his, and could feel the happiness coming from her. "This is gonna be great, Monty! Uh, that means Kate and Charlie'll be grandparents-in-law. Wow, that's gonna take a little getting used to."

       Gadget didn't know what to do first. She smiled first at Dale, then at Monty and felt like dancing around the room. "Gosh, all this is going to take getting used to! It's like an episode of the Twilight Zone or something-or like the time when that talkative fellow followed Yakko, Wakko and Dot around for over a whole day. Of course, that was a bad weird and this is certainly a good weird. It's like hitting the jackpot and getting your favorite wish at the same time!"
       Dale hugged Gadget, sharing in her happiness. "I got what I wished for." Then Monty followed up and hugged Dale and Gadget, lifting them off the floor. "I got what I wished fer too."
       Foxy stood at the door, wondering at the spectacle. "Wow, you all did some great wishing then! What wish was it?" Foxy and Chip had just returned from hang gliding and stood there with curious faces. Gadget motioned them over, bubbling with vigor. "You two can join the group hug! I just found out that Monty's my real father!"
       Monty nodded when they looked at him. "Oy, it's true. Evelyn..er Eva Râboga was me wife and Gadget's me little girl!" Dale patted Monty on the back. "I'll get Monty for a father-in-law now!" As they absorbed the news, Monty again recounted the events that led him to realize his wondrous discovery.
       "Wow, that's got to be one of the cuh-raziest coincidences I've ever heard of!" Chip said, once he'd heard the full tale. "To think, a father and daughter living under the same roof and neither one knowing that they're related? The odds are astronomical, but there it is."
       Gadget was getting more and more happy as she got used to it. "Golly, we have to tell Bianca about this!" Foxy couldn't help but be glad for her too. "Oh, she'll be so thrilled to find out! And what about Zipper? Does he know yet?" Chip thumbed toward the exit. "He left about the same time we did to go pay a visit to Honey, so I suspect he's in the dark too."
       As the Rangers continued to discuss the amazing discovery, Zipper buzzed in with a very satisfied look on his face. "Hi, everyone! Say, what's all the hubbub about?" Gadget leaped up and took Zipper by his hands and she danced around in a circle with him. "Zipper, I just found out that Monty's my real father!"
       Zipper bounced up and down in the air as Gadget swung him. "Ga..adget, are you su..ure? You ha..aven't been working in your wo..orkshop too long lately, ha..ave you?" Monty rescued Zipper by putting his hands on Gadget's shoulders to stop her joyful dancing. "No Zipper. It's the truth, Gadget's me little girl."
       The pupils of Zipper's eyes bounced up and down some like little black ping-pong balls, then came to a rest. He looked at Monty looking down fondly at Gadget and she holding his hand and smiling at him. "Wow, it's true! This is absolutely incredible!"
       Zipper hugged them both, which set off another round of well-wishing. When the talk died down again, the Rangers set the table for supper. All through the eating, the talk was lively and when the dishes had been put away Monty came over to Gadget and Dale. For what seemed the hundredth time that day, he hugged his newly-found daughter and slapped Dale on the back, nearly knocking him over.
       "Well lad, it's mighty nice havin' you being part o' the clan. Just wait till mum and dad find out about all this...uh, a word o' warnin' mates, they may be a bit surprised and a bit...enthusiastic, so keep a sense o' humor about 'em," Monty said.
       "Oh, that's all right, Monty. I know they'll be happy to have a new granddaughter!" Gadget said. Dale nodded his agreement. "Yeah, nothing like instant kin! And you didn't even have to add water!"
       "New granddaughter?" Monty said. "Yer the first and only, Gadget luv. They're gonna go wild! Though dad might be a bit embarrassed if he remembers all that flirtin' he did with you when he met ya." Gadget gave him a "don't worry about it" look. "Aw, I suspect he'll chalk it up to family togetherness or something. He'll probably say, 'Must've recognized me good looks in her.'"
       "That sounds like Cheddarhead all right!" Chip said. Foxy put her wings together in an admiring gesture and sighed. "He sounds neat. I hope he makes it for the wedding!" Monty downed a slice of leftover cheese cobbler. "I'm sure they'll be here. They haven't seen me or any o' you blokes in a long time. It'll be a roight big family reunion."
       "It may be two family reunions," Gadget noted. "I'm really hoping that Bianca can get the Râbogas over here from Hungary. It would be just perfect!" Monty thought about that one, and cringed some internally. "Ohhh...well, it'll be a bit of a culture shock when they meet, yer mom's side bein' blue bloods and all and mine bein' salt o' the earth types. I hope they all can git along."
       Dale, ever the optimist, tried to get Monty to look on the bright side. "Don't worry, Monty! My folks'll be there too and we'll help balance it out. Chip's will too, right Chip?"
       "Sure, they'll be there," Chip said.
       "See? Besides, the more the merrier like Bianca says! And the more presents, too!" Dale said, chuckling. "Hey, we still haveta let Nimnul and Fat Cat know where we're registered! And who'll console the brokenhearted Rat Capone when he finds out that the moll of his dreams is marrying another guy?"

       Gadget elbowed him slightly in the ribs, then rubbed his cheek with her hand. "Dale, what am I going to do with you?" Dale arched an eyebrow. "I can think of a few things...iron my shirts, clean my room, cook for me..." The others laughed, and then Monty playfully grabbed the back of Dale's shirt.
       "Now Dale, yer comin' inta a fine family. I expect me son-in-law ta tow the line. That means ya gotta pass the ancient Erskine family worthiness test," Monty said, trying to sound serious.
       "Ask away, Bridgekeeper. I am not afraid!" Dale said, taking on a bold look. Monty cleared his throat. "Okay, question one-when you and yer wife-ta-be get inta an argument, who's always right?" Dale pointed at Gadget. "She is!"
       "Question two-even though you know she's right, what will you do when she says her part?" Monty asked. Dale thought a moment. "Uh...say mine?"
       "Monty...." Gadget said, a hint of warning in her voice. Monty pretended not to notice. "Question three-when you're shown up fer bein' wrong, what will you do?"
       "Apologize?" Dale asked.
       Monty looked him in the eyes. "How?"
       Dale grinned. "On my knees?"
       "With?" Monty pressed.
       "Uh, flowers?" Dale asked
       Monty smiled and shook his hand. "Congratulations, pally! Ya passed!"
       Dale breathed a sigh of relief. "Wouldn't it just make more sense to say she's right in the first place?" Monty nodded. "Sure, mate! But since when have we men done things the easy way?" Gadget laughed and hugged them both. "I think we'll find it a little easier than that."
       Dale was eager to change the topic. "Hey, we don't want to steal all the limelight here. Zipper, how'd it go with Honey? Is she gonna come to the wedding?" Zipper had been quiet the whole time, and appeared to be off in dreamland. "Oh, you could say we had a good time...oh, the wedding? Sure, she's coming."
       Gadget was glad to see she wasn't the only one having a nice day. "Did you ask her if she'd be a bridesmaid?" Zipper smiled and gave a chuckle. "At first she couldn't understand why there was no 'royal' position set aside for queens at weddings. I told her it was still an honor to be selected, and that seemed to help. Still, I think she was a little disappointed not to get maid of honor. She'll get over it though. If nothing else, our flight around the park did a lot to help things along."
       "Well, when she meets Bi...Aunt Bianca, I'm sure she'll have company fit for royalty," Gadget said. Zipper came to attention at this information. "Hey, she's your aunt too? I knew that Eva looked liked her from the picture, but I didn't realize the close connection. Yeah, Honey will love having someone around that can speak in her circle like that."
       Gadget was off in a world of her own. "Golly, there will even be royalty at my wedding. This is going to be great!" Dale was at peace now, grateful that the day had gone so well. "Yep, we've got relatives coming out of the woodwork! Hey, maybe Monty's really royalty too and he and his parents are suffering from mass amnesia! Then you'd be Princess Gadget Bianca Râboga Erskine Hackwrench!"
       Gadget eyed Dale with amusement. "Well, I guess that sounds right. I've found my handsome Prince Charming." Gadget hugged Dale, and he blushed and hugged her back. "C'mon, and I'll show you the advantages of painting in acrylics."



Chapter 6 - Two Big Surprises In a Chapter Are Always Better Than One

       Dale led Gadget to her workshop, which allowed the others to split up as well. Chip and Foxy took up residence on the sofa and Monty and Zipper went outside to discuss the changes more. Monty stared at the moon, trying to let the wonder of it all sink in. "Zipper me pal, I never thought I'd be happy like I am now. For the first time in a moighty long time, I feel like I really belong somewhere."
       "Yeah, me too," Zipper said. "It's like everything's all coming together at once and it's great." Monty thought of a certain pretty face. "There's only one thing that could make it greater yet, though." Zipper patted Monty on the shoulder. "I'm sorry, Monty. I'm sure she'd want to be here for you and Gadget."
       "Well, I'd like it but I don't know how Gadget would take it. Remember, Laura Hackwrench is her mum as far as she's concerned. Eva's not even a memory to her. Still, one more Erskine around would've been nice," Monty said, shaking his head over the wonder of it all. "Kin you believe it, Zipper? The prettiest girl on earth, and she's my daughter! I still gotta pinch meself to make sure I'm not dreamin' it all!"
       Zipper thought out loud, "I can't say that there's much family resemblance on either side though - she's a perfect mix of both sides of the family." Monty grinned at his old friend's observation. "Yep, got my looks and her mother's brains!"
       "No wonder she's so amazing...too bad she wasn't a fly," Zipper mused. Monty looked at him sidewise. "What would you have done when you had ta pick between her and Honey, though?" Zipper started at Monty's question-he hadn't meant to say his last comment out loud. **I better start remembering that I can talk.** "Uh, sorry Monty. I shouldn't have said that."
       "S'alright, mate. Gadget has that somethin' special that's naturally attractive to a bloke, no matter what animal he is. I gotta admit, I haven't really thought about that Gadget and Dale are diff'rent-well, not as a father thinks anyway. I don't think they'll mind, but I kinda hope they'll adopt one day. I loike the idea of havin' grandkids ta tell my adventures to."
       Zipper nudged Monty and chuckled. "And if it had been me and Gadget?" Monty gave him a wink. "Well, I love ya both so it wouldn't have been a problem that way. But somehow, I jus' couldn't imagine you carryin' her over the threshold!"
       Zipper began laughing hard. "But seriously, Dale and Gadget are going to be a great couple, and I think that they'll have kids, one way or another. If they don't adopt, then Gadget could invent some kids." Monty had to wonder at that one - invented kids? There wasn't much beyond Gadget's ability when she applied herself. He and Zipper turned back and both watched the moon, thinking over the possibilities.
       Inside, Gadget was thinking over the possibilities of Dale's painting. They were both working on it, and this time Gadget had the smocks ready plus a liner underneath the stand for the canvas. The picture was slowly taking the shape of a mountain range, with forests on either side.
       "Golly, this picture is turning out pretty good!" Gadget said. Dale gave it a professional lookover, and agreed. "You see? Acrylics're a lot easier to work with, but you haveta make decisions a little quicker. Now we gotta add some water..."
       Dale mixed the colors, and soon a lake appeared at the base of the hills. He showed Gadget where to add trees and bushes, and then showed her how to create a mirror effect in the water by putting a shore line in and then he took her hand and helped her gently pull down the bottom half of the color to create the blurred mirror effect.
       "It's easy when you know how. You'll be another Degas pretty soon!" Dale said enthusiastically. Gadget looked at Dale in confusion. "Da gas? Helium, Neon, Argon? They're all inert gasses by the way."
       "Well, Degas isn't a gas - well, he might've been in his own circle, but he was a French painter that liked making water scenes, among other things," Dale said. "I did a lot of looking at other painters' stuff to see what I liked. Degas' one of my fav'rites."

       Dale put his brush down. "Gadget, what do think of Monty being your father?" Gadget stopped painting and put her brush in a jar half-filled with water conveniently nearby. "Dale, it's honestly a dream come true. Not many kids can say that both of their dads were the greatest dads in the world. Since we formed the Rangers, Monty's been a dad to me in all but name anyway. Now we're just making it official."        Dale added some highlights to the trees. "He's a great guy, all right. I had no idea that your dad was fixing us up all that time! I just hope he still really approves of me, now that he's your father and all..."
       Gadget twisted around to look him in the eye. "Dale Oakmont, I'm surprised at you! Monty adores you and he wouldn't have done all that he has for us if he didn't approve of you!"
       Dale shifted some on the bench. "I know, but it's just that I don't want to disappoint him, or you. Being a husband to the single most wonderful and brilliant girl in history is such a big responsibility, and now I've got to be a son-in-law to one of the great adventurers of our time. That puts pretty high expectations on me."
       Gadget leaned over and whispered into his ear, "But you're secret agent Double-O-Dale Superspy and Robin Hood all rolled into one. How could you possibly disappoint?" Dale began to smile "Oh yeah, I'd forgot about that...."        Dale jumped up on the bench all in one motion, and thumped his chest. "Together, we'll rule the world! No wait, that's someone else...together, we'll accomplish anything!" Gadget giggled and changed her voice some. "Egad, that's brilliant Dale!"
       In the main room, Chip's thoughts were far from that day. He was watching Gone With the Wind with Foxy, and they were both enjoying themselves. "Foxy, I know I'm not the best person about asking you things, and you always seem to go along with whatever I'm doing. Are there other things you like to do?" Chip asked.
       "Not really," Foxy said. "I've never really had a chance to develop any hobbies or interests. Before Winifred, it was just a struggle to survive. When she came along it was rushing around, doing what she told me to do." Chip stood up. "Well, then it's time to start developing your skills. You sing wonderfully. In fact, there's a song I have that I'd like to hear you sing. Can you read music on paper?"
       "No," Foxy replied. Chip went to his room and brought out two pieces of paper and his guitar. "It's actually easy to read music, once you've been shown how. C'mere, and sit down. It's easiest to learn with the piano scale, but I'll demonstrate the notes for you. Okay, this is a diagram showing all the various notes. Looks like a lot, doesn't it?"
       "Yeah, they sure do. I guess I'll be able to learn them by ear," Foxy ventured.

       Chip pointed at the diagram. "Actually, all you have to do is learn eight notes. Notice the one labeled middle C? Now, if you start counting with C you'll find that eight notes later you'll find C again. That's called an octave, which means a grouping of eight notes. Those eight notes form the basis of all music. Do you know the do-rei-me song from Sound of Music?"
       Foxy stared blankly. "No, I don't know anything about making music." Chip couldn't help but be reminded of the scene in the film where the song came up. "Okay, then that song's a good place to start as any." Chip began to play, and showed her the notes as he progressed. Foxy repeated what Chip had sung, liking the melody. "Okay, but I still can't read the notes."
       "We'll go over it for several days in a row, and soon you'll know just where each one is," Chip said. "Then you'll be able to read or write music for instruments and for singing. There's a little more to it than the basic notes, but not too much." Chip started playing the tune on his guitar again. "That's what's known as the melody of a song. It's tougher to catch on to that, because it takes some training. But Foxy, you've already been writing song lyrics before and didn't even know it."
       Foxy was taken by surprise. "Really? How was I doing that?"
       "Remember that poem you wrote to me? Well, a poem is just another version of song lyrics. In fact, any poem can be made into a song if a melody-writer so chooses. One example that comes to mind is "Turn, Turn, Turn" - you know, that sixties song based on Bible verses? Normally, you'll write the music first but it has been done the other way."
       Foxy looked back at the notes on the page doubtfully. "I don't know if I could ever really sing, Chip. You're a special reason to sing, but I don't know if I could just get up in front of people and sing that way." Chip set the music aside. "Well, I guarantee if you did that people would like it. Your poetry-writing shows me that you can think musically, and pretty well. If you'd like to give it a try, I know there's an audience in this treehouse that'll sure listen to you."
       Foxy cringed and felt like panicking. "I couldn't! I'd die from embarrassment!" Chip took her wing. "I'd be right here. Besides, once you get your first applause that feeling of embarrassment will fade away. Tell you what - for your first project, I'll guide you through writing a song and show you how the melody's written. Then if you'll sing it for the others, I'll accompany you on the guitar. How does that sound?"
       "Well, okay Chip, but promise not to laugh if it's silly," Foxy said tentatively. Chip kissed her on the cheek. "I'd never do that to my best student. In this case it might be easier for you to write the lyrics first. Now, what would you like to write about? The song should have a theme and be about the things that matter most. All right, what matters most to you?"
       Foxy wrapped her wings around Chip. "Well, there's you and the Rangers, and you…" Chip was flattered, but wanted to be able to help her with the writing. "Well, I can wait a bit. Since we're going to sing it for the others, how about a song about the Rangers?"
       "Yes, but it will have to be extra special, since you all mean so much to me," Foxy said. Chip grinned, and knew very well she meant it. "Thanks, Foxy. You're pretty special yourself. Now, when you write the song lyrics, there's no set rhythmic pattern although some of the lines will usually rhyme. I know that you can write poetry, so write a poem that expresses what you feel about the Rangers."
       Foxy frowned at the task. "It won't be easy putting my feelings for you all in to words."
       "I know it won't, but the best way is to sit down and just think and feel it out. Take the rest of the evening and just play with your thoughts. It may not come together all at once, but that's okay. I can help you to construct the rhymes into a lyrical order," Chip offered.
       Foxy took up a pencil and a blank piece of paper. "Okay, I'll try, Chip."
       Over the next few hours, Foxy and Chip sat down and wrote together. Chip watched her begin to create, and felt the excitement of a teacher seeing his pupil learn. He kept his instructions to a minimum, allowing her to write the words on her own even when he saw a better word or rhyme to use. It was slow going at first, but once the first stanza was done, Foxy began to get the hang of it. Chip was very patient and answered a slew of questions on every aspect of writing lyrics. At the end of a long night's work, the rudiments of a song had come together.
       "You're really a quick study, Foxy. I really didn't have to give you that much help, and I think you've got the makings of a very good song here," Chip said. As they continued talking, the door opened and the other Rangers came in. They'd all gone to see a movie, and they were still talking about it as they came in.
       "That was so cool when Cliff flew around with that rocket pack! I've seen it a dozen times, and I still love it. Gadget, could you..." Dale began to ask as Gadget immediately started shaking her head. "I don't think I will, Dale. You saw what it did to Lucky Lindy. I wouldn't want my superspy to end up the same way," Gadget said.
       "Aw...guess I'll just have to settle for my porta-copter," Dale said. Monty looked over at Foxy and Chip. "Hey, mates! Whatcha up to over there with that paper an' all?" Zipper giggled, "They're probably writing love letters to each other."
       "Close, we're writing a song!" Foxy said. Dale walked over, instantly interested. "A song? Neato! Let's hear it!" Foxy picked up the paper defensively. "Not yet! It's not quite ready." Chip patted Foxy's wing. "We're working on the lyrics now, and we'll begin working on the melody after that."
       "Sounds like it's coming along just fine," Gadget said. "I can't wait to hear you sing something, Foxglove. I've heard from the others that you're really great." Zipper flew over and lit on the top of the sofa. "I'll say she's good. I think you could do well as a singer, Foxy."
       "I don't know. I like being a Ranger," Foxy said.
       "Well, there's no rule that says you can't be both," Zipper said. "Everyone should be able to express themselves. For example, every other week now I'm going down to the Buzz Club and singing along with a fly barbershop quartet. I did a little with them before, but I could only hum the melody. Singing's a lot more fun." Monty looked over at his friend with a note of surprise. "I knew you were doin' something with yer time, mate. Still he's right, lass. Ya shouldn't jus' limit yer whole life to us automatic-like, when ye've barely begun ta live."
       Chip saw Foxy's uncertainty about the topic and squeezed her wing reassuringly. "The main thing is that you're happy, Foxy. I want to be able to share your interests as well as you sharing mine. Besides, this is all just talk right now. We may end up being your only audience, but we'd be an appreciative one."
       Foxy looked at the paper in her wings with a look of mistrust. "Don't worry, I won't hold it against any of you if you don't like my song." Gadget looked over at Foxy and spoke with encouragement. "Oh Foxy, don't run yourself down! I bet you'll write a very good song. All you have to do is believe in yourself, right Dale?"
       "Right! There's nothing you can't do if you believe you can - I sure found that out," Dale said. Foxy was very glad that everyone was so nice. "Okay, I'll sing my song. But just remember that when I do it's from the heart."
       The team stayed up a bit longer, then retired for bed. Chip had been so glad to be able to finally do something for Foxy. He knew she had talent, but like so many others she had no one to guide or motivate her. Chip decided that he'd make sure she got her shot, even if she ended up just singing for him. **She deserves a chance to know if she can be a success at something besides just being Mrs. Chip Maplewood. Besides, I don't think she'll be ready for that title until she knows about her family either way.**

       With the morning came an announcement. Monty had managed to contact his parents in South America. "...and so they said they'd come right on up, an' stay fer the weddin'. I haven't told 'em about their granddaughter, 'cause I wanted to say that part in person. They said they'd be incommunicado till they got 'ere, so those two are in fer a real surprise!"
       "Golly, a grandfather and grandmother...and a dad. Thanks Monty, uh dad. This is the best wedding gift you could ever have given me," Gadget said. Monty waved off the sentiment. "Aw, they'd have come anyway, Gadget luv. But now they're gonna be mighty glad they did!"
       Later in the afternoon, Gadget approached Monty while he was cleaning up the main room in preparations for the Erskines' arrival. "Monty, do you think they'll like me as their granddaughter? And what do you think they'll feel about me marrying Dale?" Gadget asked. Monty was about to answer, when the door burst open and the two Erskines in question strode in.
       "Oy, Monty me boy! We rode a pelican, a toucan and a rusted-out ol' cargo plane gettin' here! Wished it'd been more fun, but then ya can't have everything," Cheddarhead said. Cheddarhead saw Gadget, and kissed her hand as he'd done before. "Yer still as lovely as the rose o' spring, my dear." Kate cleared her throat behind him. "We were pleased as punch when we heard, dearie. Is it true that you're marrying the red-nosed chipmunk, Dale?"
       "Golly, it sure is true," Gadget said. "I'm so happy! But uh, Charlie, Kate - Monty and I have a really big surprise for the two of you." Monty took his mother's hand. "A surprise as in the, 'you better be sittin' down for it' kinda surprise." Cheddarhead walked right in, ignoring the hint his son had given. "Oh, that reminds me. You should've seen what happened to us down in Chile, lad! The llama races were the best I've seen in many a year!"
       Monty raised an index finger. "Mum, dad, we gotta talk about somethin'…" Kate kissed her son's cheek and both she and Cheddarhead took over the sofa. "Your father just had to challenge the local mountain guide to a personal race, and off they went! Not that you thought a moment about the danger you were putting yourself in, Cheddarwheel..."
       "Aw, I was in no real danger! Those Andes birds o' prey are way overrated. Besides, after I got through with 'em they didn't have enough feathers ta make a duster!" Cheddarhead said, with gusto. Gadget approached, trying to be polite. "This is something really, really important." Monty knew that approach wouldn't work. "Would the two o' you just listen!"
       Kate gave Monty a mother's disapproving look. "Now Cheeser, you know it's impolite to interrupt." Cheddarhead continued, "So there I was, ridin' bareback on a llama through the most treacherous part o' the mountains, thousands of feet o' nothing but air on either side of a two-foot trail! We rode that thing full speed right to the top and then I jumped right off that llama and rode a boulder all the way down! 'Course, that rough lout o' a mouse didn't think it was so great when I ended up smashin' into his house, but that's the breaks when ya build on the side of a mountain!"

       Kate finally saw that her son was about to explode. "Uh dear, I think our son's got something to say..." Cheddarhead jumped up and slapped his boy on the back with vigor. "Always got toime ta hear what me boy's got ta say! Never let it be said that Cheddarhead Charlie didn't pay attention ta his offspring! Speak up, m'lad! What is it that's got yer hide itchin'?"
       Monty breathed out. "Finally! Now you two sit back down on the sofa there an' just listen. We got somethin' big to tell ya." Cheddarhead and Kate sat and were at full attention. Gadget was beside herself with excitement as Monty took her hand and put his arm around her shoulder.
       "Mum, Dad, I'd like ya to meet yer granddaughter, Gadget," Monty said. Gadget looked at the Erskines hopefully. The two of them stared - first questioningly at Gadget, then skeptically at Monty who nodded and back to Gadget whose smile was wide as ever and she opened her arms to them. Then they both promptly fainted, knocking their heads against each other on the sofa as they did.
       "Crikey! Why does someone always haveta faint?" Monty asked rhetorically. He clapped his large hands next to their ears and managed to rouse his parents. "Snap out of it you two, yer making a bad first impression on yer granddaughter! I'll explain everythin' in a minute if you two kin keep from faintin' that long."
       Cheddarhead came around, still groggy. "Son, didja say what I thought ya said?"
       "Yeah, Gadget's yer flesh and blood granddaughter. The only child o' me wife, Eva Râboga, sister of Bianca Râboga," Monty said, matter-of-fact. Cheddarhead looked at his son curiously. "You...you were married? And ya never told us?" Kate was beginning to become alert now. "Cheeser, are you sayin' that you married a girl and left her? Did you know about yer daughter all this time and just now decide to come forward with the truth?"

       Monty held up his hands. "Now calm yerselves! I didn't do no leavin' or deceivin'. Me wife left me a few days after the weddin' and I never heard a word from her again an' it was only found out by Dale durin' the preparations fer the weddin' that Gadget was me daughter." Monty recounted the story, then Kate turned to Dale, who had stayed on the sidelines. "And why did you want to find out about that?" Dale stepped closer. "I had to know the truth. What if it was something that could've come back in the future to haunt her?"
       "I don't roightly follow ya, mate. What led ya to realize that Gadget was Monty's girl?" Cheddarhead asked.
       "Well, that part I didn't figure out. I just figured out, with Chip, Monty and Zipper's help, that Gadget had been adopted," Dale said. Dale went on to explain the whole course of events that led to the discovery of Gadget's true family. Kate found herself having more admiration for this young munk than she thought she would. "That's quite a bit of reasoning you did, Dale. And do you love our...it's hard to even fathom it...our granddaughter?"
       "Yes, I do. More than anything in the world," Dale said. Gadget took his hand and smiled at him, knowing just how sincere his statement was. Cheddarhead got up and hugged his granddaughter. Then he felt of her arm and she surprised him by pushing with much more strength then he'd given her credit for.
       "Say, you've got some real punch there! You're an Erskine all roight!" Cheddarhead said. Cheddarhead followed up by "inspecting" Dale's arm as well. "And you've got quite an arm there yerself, pally. Wouldn't have thought it of ya. You got the stuff to defend our girl here if ya get inta a scrape?"
       Dale hesitated to say anything, but Chip knew they'd find out anyway so he spoke up instead. "We had a fight over Gadget, and Dale beat me munk to munk. He can do the job." Cheddarhead raised an eyebrow at that and looked back at Dale. "You took that lad in a fight? I'd say you could hold yer own, then! Welcome ta the family, boyo!"
       "Uh, thanks Cheddarhead. That means a lot to me," Dale said, with an apologetic look to Chip. Kate could see that there was still some tension from Dale's reaction, so she thought it best to change the subject. She too got up, and gave Gadget a hug. "I've got to admit, I've never known an Erskine girl that couldn't lay on the charm. And it looks like you've got the best of your ancestors, dearie. Do you have all your plans laid out?" Kate asked.
       "Sure, my Aunt Bianca has arranged almost the entire thing. I can't wait for you to meet her!" Gadget said. Cheddarhead's eyes showed some recognition. "Bianca...I think I've met that lass somewhere before. The name sure rings a bell. Well, ol' Cheddarhead'll just have ta find out an' maybe reacquaint himself! I never fergit a face!"
       "As long as it's a pretty one, you mean..." Kate said bluntly. Cheddarhead kissed his wife. "Aw, yours is the only face I want to have 'round me!" Gadget came over and took both their hands. "This is so wonderful. I have a family again! Thanks for letting me be part of it. So, what do I call you two then - Grandma, Grandpa, Kate and Charlie?"
       "Not Grandpa, lassie!" Cheddarhead said insistently. "Makes me sound older than the hills! Jus' call me Charlie." Kate's feelings ran the same way. "Kate's always been good enough fer me, but you call me what you like, dearie." With all that had gone on, Chip realized that he hadn't introduced Foxy yet. He pulled her up and brought her over, rather against her shy inclinations.

       "Uh, I'd like you two to meet Foxglove, the newest member of our team," Chip said. Foxy smiled a bit, trying to be friendly. "Hi..." Cheddarhead doffed his hat. "Where are me manners? Another lady present, and Cheddarhead Charlie didn't even take proper notice!" Cheddarhead kissed her hand, which made Foxy giggle.
       "Hello, Mr. Charlie. I'm Foxglove," Foxy said. Cheddarhead was all gentlemouse at once. "Call me Cheddarhead, lass! Say, is this fair one your girl, Chip?" Chip blushed, knowing he was on the spot. "Well, we are seeing a lot of each other..."
       Cheddarhead slapped his back. "Ho, ho! You always had a way o' puttin' things, boyo! Someday, you'll be as good at that as Cheddarhead Charlie!" Zipper flew into the room and landed on Monty's shoulder. "It looks like your mom and dad have taken the news of the their granddaughter pretty well." Cheddarhead did a double-take. "Am I missin' something, or did that fly just say something?"
       "Yeah, that's me talking," Zipper said. "I had surgery that fixed my defective vocal cords. Hi Charlie, Kate." Kate looked at the fly in amazement. "This place sure has changed since we were here last. Right glad you have a voice now, Zipper. I didn't think that would be possible, but I'm glad I was wrong. Seems like everyone has a girlfriend now - you got one too, son?"
       Monty blushed. "Let's talk about that later, mum."
       Later came when the others had gone to bed. Kate guided Monty outside and his father followed. "All roight, Cheeser, I think you owe your father and I a little more explanation as to why you never mentioned this Eva before." Cheddarhead crossed his arms and waited. Monty took off his flight cap. "It was the most painful thing in me whole life. Like I told ya, we met in Africa. I saved her life, we fell in love real fast and got married after a two-week courtship and a couple o' days after the weddin' she ran off and I never saw her again. I was too ashamed to tell ya afterwards."
       Kate gave him a disapproving look. "Now son, didn't I warn you not to do something like that on a whim? You're just like yer father-all action and no thinking." Cheddarhead cleared his throat. "Now Katie darling, don't be that way to the lad. After all, he did marry the girl an' we do have a pretty granddaughter now ta fuss over."
       Kate sighed, "I just thought you'd have used better judgment than that, son. Did you go and look for her after she left?" Monty gave his mom an indignant look. "Mum, of course I did! But all I had was a name and it turned out that name was fake. I didn't even have a picture of her and didn't know where she came from."
       Kate's face softened some when she saw Monty's sadness. "I know it must've felt like yer whole life was ending. What do you intend to do now, now that both of you know your real relationship? Are you going to stay on here with 'em, no matter what comes into your life? It's a heavy responsibility you're taking on, you know."
       "I'm gonna do my best to be a good dad to Gadget and a good father-in-law to Dale," Monty said. "We'll have a bit o' work to do to be a real family, but I think it'll all work out. We're all gonna stay here as far as I know, ma."

       Kate pointed inside, indicating the Rangers. "And don't fergit the others in the group. I could see that Chip feels left out because of what's happened. He's still got his family and the girl Foxglove, but he looks up to you or he'd have said a lot more than he did in there."
       Monty realized she was right. "Well, Chip's been through a lot lately. Foxglove's been a big help in helpin' him get over all this. He's a trooper." Kate raised a warning finger. "Lads like that kin put up a good front, ya know. Be there for him, and help him. I was glad to see and especially hear little Zipper."
       "Yeah, me too!" Cheddarhead said. "Whatever came over the little blighter that he wanted ta do somethin' risky like that there operation?" Monty for perhaps the first time in his life felt on an equal par with his parents and his voice let it show. "First off, yeah, I'm doin' what I can fer Chip. He's dealt with it pretty well on his own, still. And second, Zipper got the operation 'cause he wanted to tell his lady love that he's in love with her."
       "The little Casanova! Who's the lucky little fly gal?" Cheddarhead said. Monty smiled. "She ain't a fly, dad. She's a bee, a queen bee, ta be precise."
       "Zipper, minglin' with royalty?" Kate asked. "I'd hardly have expected that. Still, he always did seem to have a good head on his shoulders. Will this queen be coming to the wedding? I'd like to meet her."
       "Yeah, Honey'll be there, she's one o' the bridesmaids," Monty said. Cheddarhead chuckled at the name. "A queen bee named Honey? Sounds like her ma had a roight good sense 'o humor!" Cheddarhead laughed, until Kate bopped him.
       "Now, I'll not have you being that way when we see her, Cheddarwheel. You mind yer manners," Kate said. Cheddarhead stopped his laughing. "All right, love muffin. Say, that reminds me. Katie here asked if you had a sweetheart. Well do ya, son?"
       "Well not really, now that Eva's gone. She was one great lass," Monty said, then remembered what Gadget had asked him and decided to see what his parents thought. "Now how do ya really feel about Gadget marrying a chipmunk?"
       Kate folded her hands. "If this were yer grandfather's time, Gadget would be forbidden to marry. You know the old tradition as well as we do - kind marries kind - though there's always been exceptions to it. Dale's a good lad, and it's obvious Gadget loves him and he her. That's the important thing, and perhaps they could adopt children."
       Kate led the way back inside, where the others' conversation had turned to the wedding. Then the phone rang, and Gadget answered it. After a couple of minutes, Gadget returned from the hall to the main room. "Hey, guess what? That was Aunt Bianca, and she's invited us all over to her place tomorrow night for a dinner in Dale's and my honor! Isn't that sweet of her?"
       "That shore is, Gadget luv. We'll be there with bells on!" Monty said. Gadget was already happily thinking ahead to dinner. "It's going to be fun! Oh, I told my aunt that Monty's parents were in town and she said she'd love to meet you! You will come, won't you?"
       "Will we?" Cheddarhead said. "Why, we couldn't miss out on seein' yer aunt and enjoyin' what's sure ta be a memorable evening. After all, you'll have Cheddarhead Charlie there!"
       "And Camembert Kate. Thanks for including us, dearie," Kate said.
       "You're welcome, Kate. The Erskines and the Râbogas are now all connected through me! We're all family!" Gadget said, hugging her grandparents. Then a thought came to her. "Uh, you do have formal wear, don't you?"
       "Yes, dear. I know we don't normally wear the finer things, but we know how to dress up when the occasion demands it," Kate said. For Cheddarhead, that naturally meant a story. "Why, I remember bein' in the court o' the maharajah of Macaroon! Katie and I were slicked up more'n the potentate himself! You'd be surprised how good a diamond in the rough kin shine when it's polished, lass."
       "Our little Gadget here don't need no polishin' though," Kate noted. "She's already flawless. She's even got my blond hair. Well, my blond hair from about thirty years ago that is."
       "You're both sweet. I'm glad I've got you two for grandparents. You bring life into whatever place you go," Gadget said. Cheddarhead tapped her lightly on the shoulder. "That's just the ol' Erskine zest. You've got quite a measure of it too, you know."

       Dale come up and took Gadget's arm. "Don't I know it! She's like a ray of sunshine when she comes in the room!" Gadget just basked in the warmth and affection. It was all so strange and new for her. A few years before when she lived alone, she had resigned herself to being alone for the rest of her life. Now, her life was full to bursting and it was wonderful. She had friends, family and love. Gadget blushed and hugged Dale, then kissed him. "Thanks, Dale."
       Kate smiled at the two of them. "Now there's a scene that reminds me of the day this husband o' moine proposed to me. Scared of it as a chicken is of a fox, he was." Cheddarhead coughed a few times deliberately. "Now Katie darlin', you know I wasn't that knock-kneed about it!"
       "Oh no? Then why'd you have to buy six dozen roses to work up yer courage?" Kate asked pointedly. Cheddarhead rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, that was just me way o' showin' how much I cared!"
       "Uh, huh. And then you stuttered the proposal out over the best meal in Melbourne," Kate said. Cheddarhead looked off, remembering. "Ah, the old Victoria Falls Gardens. There's never been a restaurant loike it before or since. As I recall, you interrupted me halfway through by plantin' one right on me!"
       "I felt sorry fer you. 'Sides, you already knew what I was going to say!" Kate said, enjoying the memory as well. Gadget smiled at their little back-and-forth. "Golly, it was the same way for me. I could tell for days before that Dale was building up the courage to propose. I just wasn't sure when he was going to ask. We were at a dance and after a romantic song he proposed. He wasn't nervous at all though."
       "No, I was too numb to be nervous!" Dale said.
       "That's the way I wanted ta be, mate, but I didn't quite make it that far," Cheddarhead said. "You had it easy." Dale was liking feeling equal in a way to the roughhouse mouse. "Ho, ho! I'd have traded my numbness for your nervousness any day and thrown in a pack of the scared-stiffs while I was at it! I was so nervous up 'til the proposal that that part was easy. It was so tough convincing myself she really wanted to marry me and believe in my heart that she'd say yes. It was pure magic after that."
       Cheddarhead had a good belly-laugh at that, and slapped Dale on the back. "Too roight, mate! There's no better feelin' than once the pressure's off." Dale pointed over at Monty. "But I owe so much to Monty. Without his help and advice in all this I'd still just be a goofball."
       "Now, I won't hear ya talk so, mate," Monty said. "You were a lot 'o things, but a goofball wasn't one of 'em. You jus' didn't wanna grow up is all, and I helped ya along ta see the advantages o' doing jus' that! You did the growing, lad. You and you alone." Dale knew he was right, and took some satisfaction in it. "Being an adult has been kinda fun, actually. The responsibility's been a little scary, but still it's neat."
       "You'll do fine, boy," Kate said. "Keep yer eyes open, and listen to what others tell you. Then think it over and do what you know is right. Can't anyone ask much more of you than that."
       A knock came at the door, and Dale walked over to answer it. When he did, there was a courier at the door. "I have a registered letter here for a Monterey Jack Erskine."
       "MONTY!! It's for you!!" Dale shouted. Monty quickly made his way to the door. "Thanks, mate." Monty signed for the letter and the courier quickly departed. Dale eyed the letter curiously. "So, who's it from?"
       Monty turned the envelope over. "Don't roightly know. There's no name or return address." Gadget looked over at him. "Why don't you open it and find out?" Monty ripped open the top of it and started to remove the card inside. Then he saw words typed right at the top - For your eyes only. Private. Gabarah. Monty froze for a moment - it was a name he hadn't encountered in years. Monty put a hand on Dale's shoulder.
       "Dale lad, this is something I gotta look at in private. Sorry," Monty said as he turned and began walking toward his room. The others exchanged curious looks as they watched Monty enter his room. Once the door was shut and he was assured that no one was at the door, he opened the card. It was also typed, and simply said

Be outside at 3 a.m. Make sure you are not seen. If you are not alone, no contact will be made. This is your one opportunity.

"Why would Gabarah go for all this cloak an' dagger stuff?" Monty wondered out loud. Monty checked the remainder of the card, but there was no clue at all to indicate the intention of the sender. He returned back into the room, where many expectant eyes met his.
       "So what was it about, Monty? Not bad news, I hope?" Gadget asked. Monty played it down. "Nope, just an old friend droppin' me a line. Nothin' to worry about. Hey, who's hungry?"
       "Hey, now that's my kind of line. Let's eat!" Dale said. To keep himself distracted, Monty threw himself whole-heartedly into his cooking. "Here we are, a meal fit fer an army o' kings."

       Kate had always been pleased that Monty had learned how to cook, and now she complimented him on his work. It also made Monty feel good to know that his mom wasn't sore over his not telling about Eva. However, the letter was constantly in the back of his mind now. The meal went quickly, and the conversations were wide and ranging. Cheddarhead made the first move from the table, announcing his intentions.
       "Well son, it's been a grand toime t'day! But we've had too little rest of late, and I know me Katie kin use some downtime as well. So if you'd be so kind as to show us where ta bed down, we'll retire for the evenin'," Cheddarhead said. Gadget shared Monty's look of concern. "We really didn't even think of that. I suppose that Foxy and I could share her room and the two of you could stay upstairs in the lair."
       "Upstairs? Then you've finished the stairs?" Dale asked. Gadget walked over to a cloth hanging over a new hole in the wall just behind and to the left of the television. "It was going to be a surprise, but I guess now is as good a time as any for the grand opening of the completed staircase to the lair." Gadget led them to the new ground floor door to the lair and opened it. "Dale, you created the lair, you should be the first person to walk the stairs."
       "Oh, boy! I love stairs!" Dale bounded up, two steps at a time. Gadget's eyes widened as her voice filled with caution. "Dale, don't do that! Where the stairs spiral up it's kind of...."
       "WHOA!" Dale shouted.
       "...tricky." Gadget finished.
       Dale had missed a step, but he got his hands out in time to spare his face any permanent punishment. He rolled back down to Gadget's feet, then looked up at her apologetically. For her part, Gadget was caught between humor and concern. "Are you all right, Dale?"
       "Yeah, sure. Now I remember why mom told me not to run on the stairs!" Dale said. Gadget smiled at his reaction. "Just be careful, I'd hate to see something happen to that cute nose of yours."
       "Well, if something did I know of a good nurse that'll fix me up," Dale said. Gadget inspected his nose with a professional air. "Or I could build you a new nose! A robotic nose, just imagine the possibilities!" Dale chuckled. "Yeah! It could jump off my face and track down bad guys and come back and lead us to 'em! Dale, super sniffer!"
       "Come on, bionic chipmunk, or we'll be here all night thinking up silly things," Gadget said. She took his arm and together they led the others up the stairs. Cheddarhead stood and looked about as they reached the top. "Roight nice, mates! Reminds me of a cozy little grotto I once found on a trip ta Greece. 'Course, that didn't have all the amenities o' this but it was one nice place ta get away. You build this, Gadget?"
       "No, Dale found this place when he was little and built it up. I put in the lights and the stairs though. You two should be comfortable here," Gadget said. Cheddarhead looked at Dale with a new sense of respect. "Dale did all this? You're a lot more talented than I gave ya credit for! It's a real piece 'o work."

       Dale had been instantly flattered when Cheddarhead attributed the place to Gadget. "Thanks, Cheddarhead. This place has been my refuge against the world since I was a little kid. Gadget lives up here now and after we're married we'll both...live together...here..." Dale just realized the implications of his words. He'd been trying to hold off thinking about sensitive things like this, and his cheeks turned as red as his nose. Gadget came over and hugged him. "And we'll be happy, too."
       "Certainly you will," Kate said. "No need to be embarrassed, Dale. It's something all married folks have to go through. My Cheddarwheel and I had our settling-in time an' you will too."
       Dale was still beet red. "Uh, hey! Let me show you my paintings!" Dale had mentioned the paintings as the first diversion he could think of, but soon he found himself blushing again as well as Gadget when Cheddarhead whistled at his picture of Gadget in the red dress. Kate clouted him for it, but the glint in Cheddarhead's eyes told everyone he was just playing. Once the elder Erskines were settled in, Dale and Gadget gave them each a good night hug and went downstairs with the others.
       "Well, I don't know 'bout you blokes, but this mouse is gettin' pretty beat," Monty said, standing up from the sofa and stretching. "Think it's time for me to turn in too." Dale yawned and stretched as well. "Yeah, this has been an exciting day. I wonder what adventures await us tomorrow? Goodnight, everyone, and especially you…my dear." Dale put his arms around Gadget and kissed her.
       "I don't know about tomorrow, but right now's pretty good..." Gadget kissed him back. Then Chip turned to Foxy. "Well, the more the merrier!" Chip put his arms around Foxy and kissed her. Foxy giggled, "Goodnight, Chipper...sleep well, and don't forget about me while you sleep!" Chip smiled at her. "Don't worry. I'm sure you'll be in my dreams somewhere." Zipper had stayed strangely quiet for some time, but now spoke up. "Well, my love's not here for me to kiss so I guess I'll just have to dream about her. Good night, everyone!"
       Monty went on to his room and began the long wait. The treehouse eventually quieted down, and the hours passed. When it seemed that eternity had set in, Monty looked at his clock for the fiftieth time. It was 2:55 a.m. He was still dressed, and the Aussie slipped out. Thankfully, there were no late-night munchers or TV watchers tonight. Monty carefully opened the door and winced as it creaked. He closed it behind him and went out into the cool of the night on the veranda.
       Monty looked about and then called out tentatively, "Gabarah? You out here, mate?"
       There was a sudden rustling in the branches, and then Monty saw a form approach out of the shadows. The person was dressed in a black robe, with a hood that kept the face from being seen. Monty knew this couldn't be Gabarah just by the height and now he was beginning to feel uncomfortable and wondered if this robed figure might have friends. He waited, but the figure didn't speak.
       "So who moight you be and what do ya want? If yer lookin' fer trouble, be ready for a heapin' helpin' o' hurtin'," Monty challenged. The figure did not move, but a voice spoke from under the hood. "Still the hero I remember. I told you that I vould not be found unless I wanted to be."
       A hand emerged and pulled the hood away. The light fur and blue eyes were illuminated in the moonlight. For a moment, Monty thought his heart had stopped beating. "Ev... yer a ghost!" Eva stared at him. "Does a ghost send a registered letter from beyond the grave?"
       Monty was caught between shock and surprise. "You... yer alive, but yer dead! How can ya be here? Am I dead?" Eva's voice was calm and dispassionate. "A mouse like you never dies, but I've died many times in my life. Part of me died vhen I was taken from my family. I was reborn when I met you, and another part died. Another part I wanted to let die, but it hangs on still. I had to let the world believe that I was dead, or my life would have been worthless until now."

       Monty suddenly felt himself fill with rage. "How dare ya come back here? Ya run out on me, not even havin' the decency of tellin' me yer real name! Ya never even let me know I had a little girl! All these years I've been wonderin whether ya were alive or dead! I've stayed faithful to you, been alone all these years 'cause I had a wife out there somewhere. I've had me heart broken a couple o' times, havin' met and fell in love, but always I had to walk away, because of you!"
       Monty stopped to see what reaction she'd have, but Eva revealed nothing and he continued. "You may not have cared about me, but I still cared about you, though I can't imagine why now. So, ya abandon me, ya abandon our daughter and fake yer own death. I finally learn the truth and fer the first time in over twenty years I can start living again - I mourned fer ya, I even shed tears hearin' about yer death! Gadget, she shed a lot o' tears fer the mum she never knew."
       The shadows partially hid the anger and hurt in Monty's eyes as he looked toward this seeming apparition. "I had forgiven you in me heart fer what ya did to me, an' ya know why? Gadget - fer her alone, it was worth it all. Now ya come crawlin' back. The work's been done, others raised yer girl, and now that she's gettin' hitched ya want to come back suddenly and have the family that you didn't want before. Well, I'll tell ya right now, Laura Hackwrench was her mum, not you - just you remember that!"

       Monty's anger prevented him from saying more, so he turned away and leaned on the railing and stared at the night sky. Eva didn't react either way but she began speaking again, her voice an almost perfect match of Bianca's. "When we were married, it was the one time in my life that I can look back on and say that I was happy. But that happiness forced me to look at myself and vhat I had done. I still do not know how many deaths my research led to, but I began to realize that I couldn't be happy in a world where I'd made others unhappy. I'm sure my sister has informed you of my life, what little she knows of it. There was a philosophical imbalance to what I'd done, so I decided to return in the hopes that I could right some of the wrongs."
       Eva looked to the moon as Monty was, staring in the wistful way that only a person can do who has seen a tougher life than they deserved. "I only found out about my pregnancy once I had returned to the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. If I had known about it when I was with you, I probably would have stayed but vhere I was it was far too late. It took all my resources to get little Bianca out of their clutches. I did not want to see her molded into the monster I saw that I'd become. As the years passed, all my efforts to stop the radical tendencies in my organization proved futile. I decided to terminate R.O.D.E.N.T.S. and me with it."
       Eva waited to see if that would get any reaction, but Monty didn't move a muscle. "I vaited until all the leaders were together, and I rigged the building to explode, along with all the information I'd provided for them over the years. I was spared because unknown to me, the leaders of the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. had built the walls of my quarters out of a special alloy, which was meant to prevent my escape. Instead, it prevented my death. Also unknown to me, the conference room with the leaders was also lined with the material. Those leaders knew there could only have been one person responsible for the blast. From that day on, I had to go underground."
       Eva took a step forward, but hesitated to go further. "One by one, I tracked them down and brought them to justice. I had a long time to think about my actions, and I decided it was time for the killing to stop. I simply saw to it that they were captured and sentenced for their deeds. The last one was arrested in Oslo just last month. So ended the last remnants of R.O.D.E.N.T.S., save for myself."
       The tone in Eva's voice changed now to become softer, more soothing. "Then my contacts told me that someone was looking into Gadget's birth. I knew vhat that could mean, so I came here and vaited until I was able to confirm that the secret had been told. Now I can emerge again from the dead, even though my resurrection fills you with hatred. There's nothing I can do about that, dahling. From the day I met you, my fate was sealed."

       Monty looked over at her coldly. "Okay, now that yer job is done, what are yer intentions?" Eva sat down on one of the lawn chairs. "Vhen I learned what was happening here, I was not going to come at all. I realized however that even though neither of you knew I was alive, I had made you both unhappy. I vhanted to come, now that I could, and explain to you and tell you that I wish it didn't have to be the way it turned out. I suppose you realize why I wanted to meet with you alone first. I didn't know how you'd feel about me, though I suspected. And I didn't want to ruin it for Bi..Gadget, even though I've dreamt of seeing her. What is she like now?"
       "She's a bonzer princess," Monty said, letting some fatherly pride come through in his voice.. "She's a roight genius and sharp as a tack. Lovely as a spring day. She's the kindest, gentlest, most lovin' lass I ever met. She could melt a heart o' ice with just a smile. She's a wonderful gal in every way. Geegaw and Laura did a great job o' raisin' their daughter."
       "I'm glad for her," Eva said. "That was the kind of person I'd hoped she'd be. At least now I know it was vorth it. I had hoped you would understand, dahling, but I suppose I hoped for too much. If it means anything to you, I still care about you. My sparing her and respecting you should be proof of that."
       Monty focused his eyes on her pointedly, narrowing as they did. "You show up to stop the weddin'?" Eva looked at him curiously. "Vhy would I do that? I didn't even know she was getting married. Is she happy?" Monty relaxed a little at that, but only a little. "She's happy as could be. They're gonna delay the weddin' fer a little while till Gadget gets comfortable with the news about her bein' adopted. Dale's a fine lad. He'll be a great husband to her and they're very happy together. When she finds out about you - well, that may make fer a longer delay yet."
       Eva paced back and forth. "She doesn't have to know. You are the only one outside my contacts who knows I am alive, and they would never betray me. I know you vhant to see me as a vile monster come down from the hilltops, but I love her and you. I also know that what's happened in my life was my own fault now, so I am willing to stay out of yours. There's also Gadget to think of. I don't want her to have to be ashamed of what I've been - like I am."
       "I got me own issues with you. What Gadget thinks is another matter. I don't know if it would do good or harm ta her ta see ya, but I only care about what's best fer her," Monty said. Suddenly, Eva's emotions came up. "And don't you think I do, Monty? Do you have any inkling of how hard it was for me to give up the last thing in my life left that I loved? I had to watch as my sister took my baby away, and the pain of that never goes away! All I could do was give her a chance at life. I couldn't be there to hold her when she was scared, or sing to her when she was lonely. She may have been Laura and Geegaw's daughter, but she was my baby! And if I hadn't loved her so much, I vhould have let R.O.D.E.N.T.S. turn her into yet another puppet of the state."
       Monty turned to face her fully. "If ya do contact Gadget, are you just gonna run away again or are ya gonna stay here and try to be a part o' her life?"
       At that moment, Gadget came out of her old room she was sharing with Foxy. Gadget never liked moving around too much, though she'd never complain to anyone about it. Now she was in the kitchen in her nightgown opening the refrigerator, when her ears picked up voices outside. She came into the main room and could see Monty through the window, arguing with someone just out of view. Gadget came to the outside door and listened.
       "Vhat I did I had to do. I never wanted to hurt you, Monty, but once I saw what I'd done I had to try to make things right again. I could not ask you to come and risk your life with me," Eva said. Monty walked up to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "If you had just trusted me, luv, I would've been willin' ta die for ya!"
       "If you had died for me, I would never have forgiven myself. And I vhould have died too," Eva said, plainly meaning it. Monty then gently hugged her. "Regardless, luv, it's good ta see ya again."

       Gadget couldn't fathom the conversation she was hearing, but the other voice was unmistakable. Monty and Bianca? She opened the door to find them hugging each other, and both of them visibly moved. She walked up quietly as they separated, catching them both off-guard. The mouse that she thought was Bianca was starting to cry, so Gadget's natural instincts took over and she hugged her from the side.
       "Aunt Bianca, it's all right. I know you had a good reason for what you did. I love you," Gadget said.
       Had Monty not been so moved, he would have noticed her coming and warned Eva. He'd been swept over in a wave of emotion like Eva was, and was as surprised as she when Gadget approached. All Monty could do was watch and hold his breath. Eva knew who it was by the mistake Gadget had made, and even if she hadn't been emotional before, the hug would have been too much for her. She began to weep bitterly, and pulled Gadget to her while shaking with the weight of the guilt that was on her.
       "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry...."
       Monty realized Gadget's mistake and not knowing how Gadget was going to react when she understood what was going on, he didn't want to interrupt just in case Gadget got angry when she realized who she was hugging. Moved beyond words, Monty hugged them both, not knowing if this would be the one and only time he'd ever be able to hug his wife and daughter together.

       Gadget didn't expect Bianca to be this upset over what she'd done, and when Monty came and hugged them both she began to wonder. Her mind struck on a possible explanation, but it was one that seemed too ludicrous to put into words. But why the midnight rendezvous, and why the secrecy? She had to know, and Gadget pulled away from the embrace gently and look up at the person she'd been hugging. Eyes the same color blue as hers - eyes full of sadness. Gadget gasped.
       "You...you're...you're alive?" Gadget asked.
       The tears were still falling as Eva looked on her daughter's face for the first time in over two decades. "Yes, Gadget. I lived through the explosion as did the leaders I wanted to silence. I couldn't come until the last of the R.O.D.E.N.T.S.' leaders had been locked away safely. I never wanted to give you up, my baby. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, along with leaving your father."
       Gadget pulled back from Eva, her emotions stirred. "Why have you come back now, after all these years?! Wasn't it bad enough that I lose my mom and dad, find out that I had another mom and dad and discover my other mom's dead too, and then after I accept that it turns out you're still alive?"

       Eva had been able to control herself with Monty, but that wasn't possible with Gadget. "I didn't vhant to hurt you, dahling! My life was in jeopardy if I ever showed my face while one of the organization remained free. They knew I'd tried to stop them, so I had to let everyone believe I was dead. As I told Monty, the last of them was arrested last month. I was only going to tell Monty and leave you in peace. Now you know, and at least I can tell you once more I love you, my little Bianca. I won't burden you with my shame, and I hope your marriage is a happy one."
       Eva cast her eyes down, and started to turn and go when Gadget caught her hand. "I didn't say I wanted you to go away..."
       "Gadget's right. Yer here, why not stay a while?" Monty offered. Eva was shocked by Gadget's reaction, and even more by Monty's. Then Eva turned back to Gadget and she hugged her. Eva closed her eyes and felt Gadget's hug the way a hungry person tastes food after starving. "It has been many years since anyone vhanted me. Monty was right. Your parents raised you well, the way I wanted to raise you. I vish I could have met them, to thank them."
       Gadget gave Eva a warm smile and brushed the tears from her eyes. "Does that you mean you'll stay?" Monty's eyes had hope in them now. "You'll stay fer the weddin' at least, won't ya?" Eva couldn't speak anymore. She just closed her eyes and nodded.
       "Why don't we take the mushy stuff inside? You hungry, Evelyn... Eva? Been a while since ya had a taste o' me cookin'," Monty said. Eva managed to regain that slight smile that Monty knew well. "I remember. I think I said at the time, 'Your cheese flapjacks are a culinary delicacy, Mr. Erskine.' Yes, I'd like that." Monty managed a smile back.
       "Good, ya haven't lost yer taste for the finer things in loife," Monty said. Eva removed her robe to reveal a figure similar in slenderness to Gadget's, covered from top and bottom in a tough material of deep blue. She even wore a French beret made of it on her head, with some gold piping on the bottom of it and around the collar and sleeves being the only breaks in the color scheme. Gadget noted the similarity between the outfit and her own jumpsuit, except Eva's top was essentially a lightweight jacket and the material wasn't parachute silk.
      Eva saw the question on Gadget's face. "Kevlar, dahling. A force of habit, I suppose. This was my favorite outfit for undercover work, and I choose my garments for function and for safety. This one I made myself." Gadget felt of the material. "Golly, it's really sturdy. But how did you cut it? Did have use airplane shears?" Eva shook her head. "Actually, I borrowed the use of a high-powered laser. They are ever-so-efficent for cutting, you know. I vould have constructed one, but my resources are not what they vere."
      Eva gathered up a bag of her belongings she'd left in the shadows and followed her husband and daughter inside. Soon Eva and Gadget were sitting at the kitchen table discussing things in high-tech jargon and Monty was making some cheese flapjacks. After the initial burst of emotion, a heavy, uncomfortable silence suddenly fell over the three. Eva looked up and touched her daughter's hand.
       "Gadget, there is something else you should know..." Eva said.
       Monty almost dropped his spatula. **Why does there always haveta be something else?** "What is that, luv?" Gadget was insistent. "Please, tell us!" Eva accepted the flapjack from Monty and ate a bite, trying to put her thoughts in order.
       "I vould have told you or Monty this, whether I stayed or not. When I found out I was pregnant, the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. were happy because they knew my offspring would likely carry the same intelligence as I did. So, vhen the delivery time came, they...they decided that once you were old enough they would take you away from me and indoctrinate you as I had been. I decided that I could not allow it, and from the hospital arranged for you to be smuggled out. But what you do not know is that I would have arranged the same for your sister as well. I had twins."

       Gadget's mouth fell open and she stared at Eva. Words tried to form, but in vain. Monty had an immediate thought, but kept it inside. "Twins? What happened to the other girl?"
       "Is my sister still alive?" Gadget asked.
       Eva's tears began to return. "I do not know, precious. You see, they sedated me for the delivery and I did not know there were two of you at the time. So I left the hospital with you alone, not suspecting that I had twin daughters. I learned later they had left you with me simply to placate me, intending to take you as well at a later date. I smuggled you out just before I blew up the Institute, so they had no way to track you, thankfully."
       Eva took the glass of juice that Monty offered her and drank some gratefully. "It vhas only then that I learned of my little Eva, as I call her. When I discovered that the R.O.D.E.N.T.S.' leaders had lived through the blast, I took with me the data disks that I had brought to my quarters. I had intended to make sure their information would be destroyed, but instead it provided me with a list of secret locations that aided me in capturing them all.
     "It also spoke of their Project Phoenix - a means to raise up a new and stronger organization from young brilliant minds gathered from around the globe. And the information indicated that they'd taken my Eva from my bedside! The disks did not say vhere the project was, but I managed to trace the project's location after many years of searching. When I did, I learned that several of the recruits had escaped together, and the details were sufficient to make me believe that Eva was one of them. After that, I was not able to find a trace of her."
       Eva grabbed the juice glass in front of her, but her hands were trembling too much for her to drink any more of it. Monty was shaking as much as Eva was. "So where is she?" Gadget had wanted to ask too, but she was too stunned to respond.
       "She could be anyvhere by now. Project Phoenix was located on a secret base in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands. Someday, I will find her and tell her I love her as I told you, Gadget," Eva said, despondent. Gadget and Monty looked at each other in terrible realization of what they had both dreaded. "Hawaii?! Oh, no! Lahwhinie!!"



Chapter 7 - Expect Nothing, But Be Ready To Give Everything

      Eva looked first to one, then the other. They both seemed hesitant to say anything, and appeared dismayed. "Vhat is it? What is a lahwhinie?" Gadget spoke first. "Lahwhinie's the name that my identical twin goes by. We met her in Hawaii."
       "And a nasty little cuss she was. She was nearly the death o' all o' us - oops," Monty said. If Monty had slapped Eva, it wouldn't have affected her as much as that. Eva look at the juice glass, downcast. "They must have indoctrinated her before she escaped. Now my shame has spread to her, and nearly cost you your lives! I vish I'd never heard of the R.O.D.E.N.T.S.!" Eva buried her head in her arms and cried.

       All this noise had naturally attracted Chip, Dale, Foxy, and Zipper who were now standing around puzzled at the open door of the kitchen. "Gadget, Monty, what's going on? And why is Bianca here?" Chip asked.
       "Uh...everyone, meet my mom, Eva Râboga," Gadget said.
       "My wife," Monty added.
       "YOUR MOM?! YOUR WIFE?!" everyone but the informed shouted. Dale rushed up to Gadget and put comforting hands on her shoulders. "Is this real?"
       "It's not a cartoon, Dale. She's really my mom. She'd escaped the blast we thought had killed her, but so did the bad guys she tried to destroy. She was a marked woman until just now, when the last of them were caught," Gadget explained.
       "Amazing...." Zipper said. "Family reunion, Ranger style."
       Dale totally ignored Eva's sorrow. "Zowie! Welcome to Rescue Ranger HQ, Mrs. Monterey Jack!" Dale rushed over to her and shook her hand. Foxy looked at the reunited family with a bittersweet expression on her face.

       Eva had been self-absorbed in her sorrow, but she looked up when she felt Dale grab her hand. Her blue eyes were full of suffering. "Is...is he the one, Gadget?" Gadget nodded, and Eva looked back to him. "You have a kind face. I wish my coming was under better circumstances, but now I have learned that I have yet again failed in my duties. The Hawaiian girl - the one you know as Lahwhinie - is in fact Gadget's sister. She was taken from me as an infant without my knowing by the R.O.D.E.N.T.S., and vhas raised in their doctrine but escaped. I fear that her evil tendencies are a result of that, and the bad choices I made."
       Chip couldn't believe it. That treacherous girl really was Gadget's sister? "Then our first order of business is to find her." Monty nodded his agreement. "And bring our prodigal daughter home, to her lovin' family," Monty said. Dale sighed at the idea of meeting up with Lahwhinie again. "Boy, we sure do like livin' dangerously."
       Gadget began explaining to her mother about their encounter with Lahwhinie and how close they all came to being killed by her. Then Chip added, "The question is, is she too far gone to save? She's mean as a snake and half as trustworthy." Monty gave Chip a momentary cross look, but then nodded. "Well, no matter what mate, we gotta try." Eva looked at the resolve in their faces, and envied such unity of purpose. "Gadget, you chose your friends well. I hope that when I have had a chance to speak with Lahwhinie she will understand."
       Then Eva looked over to Chip, who still had a dubious look on his face. "She hasn't been given the opportunities that others have for happiness. You don't know vhat the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. do with little children when they raise them. Their entire sense of right and wrong is skewed. But if life has taught me anything, it's that nothing's impossible."
       "You're Gadget's mom, all right," Chip said. He could see that they were going, so he sighed a bit and resolved himself to it. "I guess if anyone has a shot at making her better, it's you and Monty. We'd better start packing. We'll leave first thing in the morning."
       "Roight! Every moment we waste is takin' her a little bit closer to destruction. We gotta yank that lass away from the brink before she goes over," Monty said. Now Eva was more than envious. She was amazed. "I don't believe this...could it be that after all that's happened I still have a chance to see my little Eva again? To save her? Oh, if I could just do that one thing, I vhould be content for the rest of my days! Are you all really villing to go, just like that?"
       "Sure, it's what we do," Chip said.
       "Yeah, we do stuff like this all the time," Gadget said. "Not stuff like rescuing my sister - I only found out about her today, but stuff like finding other people's sisters, but not just any sister, we'll look for anybody and anything. I mean if it's case related, otherwise we'd never even get to sleep if we were just looking for stuff all day long..."

       Dale kissed Gadget on the cheek to break her chain of thought. "Gadget, I think she understands. Sure, we'll find her! She's gonna be my sister-in-law after all. Wait, that makes Lahwhinie...family!" Chip had already realized it, but he kept his thoughts on that to himself. "Well, they say there's a rotten apple in every bunch. Let's just hope we can turn this one back to good."
       Monty took Eva's hand. "Hear, hear, mate! She's part o' the Erskine clan, good or bad. An' I fer one plan to do everything to see that it's good. I want two daughters I kin be proud of..." Monty hugged Gadget, emphasizing his words.
       "She called me her sister once, but she would never have guessed that it was true," Gadget said.
       "Well, we all have to remember that there's still a chance that she isn't your sister. It's possible that she just by chance looks like you," Zipper said. Eva shook her head. "She and Gadget are twins. I would be quite surprised if you met another girl that looked like her that was not my Eva. In addition, the old R.O.D.E.N.T.S.' headquarters was on one of the Hawaiian Islands. The pattern fits."
       "Yeah! I've sure not seen anyone else that could pass herself off as Gadget! I'd have noticed!" Dale said. Chip was already thinking ahead. "We should contact the authorities in Hawaii before we leave and see if they have a file on Lahwhinie. Now, we have to be prepared for hostility if and when we find her. She'll think we're trying to pull some kind of trick. It's not going to be easy for her to believe that you're all her family, plus I'm sure she had a continent-sized grudge against all of us for preventing her from becoming queen of that mouse tribe. So we need to be prepared for a double-cross even if she claims to accept what we're telling her."
       Gadget frowned, knowing Chip was right. "Golly, this is going to be tough isn't it?" Monty put his big arm around Gadget's shoulders. "Don't worry, lass. Somehow, we'll get through to her. There's jus' gotta be a way!"
       "Yes, and I believe I am it," Eva said. "I alone could understand what she has been through. Hopefully, that vill be enough to help her overcome her training and her current tendencies. If it was me we were going after, I would be prepared for trickery and lies. But if she is truly like me, then somewhere deep inside there is good in her. We will all have to try to find it, and bring it out."
       "That's the spirit," Chip said. "Always look for the best in people rather than the worst. I'm sure we can bring her over to the side of good." **If she doesn't rip our hearts out and show them to us before we die.**

       "Me mum and dad're gonna wanna come too..." Monty said. "Oh, that's roight, they haven't met ya, Eva. Uh, they're gonna be a bit sore at ya when they find out yer still alive, just a word o' warnin, luv. You'll charm 'em soon enough though, 'specially when they find out we're goin' to rescue a second granddaughter." Eva looked a little uncomfortable. "I also have not spoken to my sister yet. I hope that Bianca will understand. Will we have to vait on your parents, Monty? Are they here, too?"
       "They're sleepin' upstairs as we speak. Why don't ya call Bianca now? I'm sure she won't moind the missed sleep, seein' as how you'll be tellin' her yer alive and all," Monty said. Eva sighed and stood up. "I guess I should. She did so much for me and it will be good to speak with her again."

       Eva left the room and Zipper guided her to the phone. Gadget returned to the flapjacks in front of her. "Jeepers, this sure has been a memorable month! I thought I was going to be alone all my life, and now I've got a husband-to-be, a father, a mother, grandparents and a sister! I'd never have believed it if I wasn't here."
       Dale held out his plate as Monty served up more of the breakfast food. "It'll make a great show one day when 'The Gadget Hackwrench Show' gets on TV! I'm so happy for you, Gadget. Now I'm not just part of your family, I'll be part of Monty's too - wait, and part of Bianca's!"
       Chip started in on his serving. "I think even the television crowd would have a problem believing that one, Dale. Plus, the bad twin sister bit's been done to derision. I just hope that this story has a better ending than those."
       "It's quite a load to handle, isn't it Dale?" Gadget asked. Dale nodded between bites. "Yeah, just imagine the family get-togethers! The Erskines, Oakmonts and the Râbogas. There'll be some great parties, and two new groups of people who haven't heard any of my jokes!"
       Monty finished serving the others and sat down himself. "The Erskines never saw a party they didn't loike! Well mates, it's been a wild evening..er mornin'. Thanks for your support in all this. It means a lot." Zipper motioned with his hand, indicating everyone. "Whether by association or by blood, we're all family here. We know you'd do the same for us."
       "You know it, pally," Monty said, looking toward the kitchen door. "I jus' can't quite believe that me wife's in the hall. It all seems like a bloomin' dream." Gadget found herself looking in that direction too. "I know what you mean, Monty. I've suddenly got an entire family. If it's a dream, then I want to keep on sleeping." Gadget walked up to Monty and hugged him. "Daddy," she whispered.

       Monty held her and never thought a word could sound so good. Eva came back from the hall, her eyes still moistened. "She's coming over. Bianca thought it was someone playing a cruel trick on her at first, but I was able to convince her. She's every bit as nice I remember her. Poor thing - she vhas crying when she hung up."
       "Just wait till you meet uncle Bernard," Gadget said. "He's such a nice person. I'm sure he's coming over with her." Unnoticed by the others, Foxy quietly made her way outside, wiping tears from her eyes. "I'd give anything to be you right now, Gadget."
       The kitchen was one big conversation until Zipper pointed out that perhaps they should all get dressed if company was coming. Everyone agreed, and the group broke ranks. Monty decided to let his parents rest, since they'd had such a long trip so recently. Chip was about to shut the door to his room when Gadget poked her head in.
       "Chip? Foxy's not in here. Did you see where she went?" Gadget asked. Chip hadn't thought of Foxy for a while, and realized that he hadn't seen her when he left the kitchen. "No. I'd better go look for her." Gadget stood in the doorway. "Is everything okay between you two?" Chip hesitated a moment. "I don't know..."

       Chip walked outside and it didn't take him long to find Foxy. He heard her crying, and found her perched on one of the high branches. "Foxy, I know that it must seem unfair, but if Gadget can find her family then you can find yours too!"
       "I'm not jealous of her, I just envy her. She knows what it feels like to be alone and she's so wonderful and nice that she deserves to have her family. But I'm nobody and nothing," Foxy said. She began sobbing. Chip climbed up to where she was. "How can you say that? If it hadn't been for you, I'd have fallen apart I don't know how many times! You got me through that, and there's mighty few people who could have. You deserve happiness every bit as much as she does, and I'm going to see that you get your chance."
       Chip grabbed Foxy's wing and led her down the tree. Foxy wrapped her wings around Chip and held onto him for dear life. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Chip. I'd be so lost." Chip looked out over the city as the brightening sky indicated that dawn was minutes away. "You're stronger than you know, believe me."
       "You rescued me from the darkness, cutie, and look at what you got in return." She then gave Chip a fur-raising kiss.

       Forty minutes later, Bianca arrived along with Bernard. There was much hugging and kissing between the two long lost sisters. Eva explained her story again, and soon the twins were smiling, crying and trying to keep their composure all at the same time. Foxy looked on, taking hold of Chip's hand and squeezed it painfully tight at the sight of yet another happy family reunion. Chip put his arms around her and held her to him so the rest wouldn't notice her reaction. He quickly escorted Foxy out of the room to allow her a few minutes to compose herself.
       Dale saw them go but didn't realize why. He turned back to the happy scene in front of him. "Wow! Only one family member out of the picture."
       "As soon as we find Lahwhinie we'll be a complete family again...I mean, for the first time," Gadget said. Eva and Bianca were sitting on the sofa, and Eva took hold of Bianca's hands. "Will you be going too, sister?"
       "I vhish I could, dahling, but Bernard and I are committed for the next several days with R.A.S. duty we just can't get out of. I would so much like to be there when you meet her. I will make a point of coming over as soon as you return," Bianca said.
       Eva looked down toward the floor. "I pray she returns vith us, but whatever the case it will be good to see little Eva - just as it was to see little Bianca here." Eva took Gadget's hand and squeezed it, and Gadget hugged her mother. "And it's so good to see you…mother."

       Dale looked confused. "Bianca? Gadget, you mean you're named for your mother's sister and your sister's named for her sister, which is your mother? Wow, that's confusing - even to think about! That'd make Lahwhinie, Lahwhinie Eva Râboga Erskine!"
       Bernard gave Eva a nice welcoming hug. "It's good to finally meet you, Eva. You're every bit as charming as Miss Bianca." Eva smiled at him. "I can see vhy she married you, Bernard. You are quite the charmer as well." Chip got the Rangers' attention, allowing Bernard and Bianca some time with Eva alone. "Come on, everyone. We have to get ready to go." Chip dragged Dale back to their room to start packing. "Dale, just be on your guard in case Lahwhinie tries to impersonate Gadget again."

       Dale was genuinely surprised at Chip's warning. "Me?! I'm taken. I'm not the one who's vulnerable. You'd better be on your guard!" Chip felt a rush of anger and quickly turned toward Dale. "Don't push my buttons, Dale. You know how I feel about her." Dale retreated a step, as he blinked at Chip's sudden reaction. "Hey, nothing personal! I just mean she did seem a lot more interested in you."
       Chip took a deep breath. "Sorry. Just drop it, Dale. Now's not the time for that kind of thing." Foxy had heard the argument from the hall, and now she knocked and called Chip over to the door. Once he was out, she closed it so that they were alone in the hall. "You're worried, aren't you? Did this Lahwhinie get to you before?" Chip looked at Foxy and could see the concern in her eyes. "Yes, she pretended to be Gadget and...she flirted with Dale and I and she kissed me on two occasions, both of us thinking it was Gadget. I'm sorry, Foxy."
       Foxy shook her head, confused. "What do you have to be sorry for? It wasn't your fault she kissed you, but you're going to have to deal with this. That means you'll have to face Lahwhinie again. Be careful though, cutie."
       "You and Dale are right, I'll have to be careful," Chip said, already thinking ahead. "Still, there's nothing to worry about. She's Gadget's sister and we have to think of her like that, not like we're going back to face an old enemy. She's a lost soul that we have to help rescue." Foxy knew he was saying it more for himself than her.
       "Be careful anyway, Chip," she said, as Foxy hugged him and went off to help with preparations. Chip went back inside, where Dale was finishing up his packing. "Hey, it's not like Lahwhinie had you wrapped around her little finger or anything. Of course, you did start floating off into space on that second kiss."
       "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dale," Chip said, checking his supplies. Dale decided to back off, remembering they were friends again. "Hey, you've learned a lot since we came back from Hawaii. I know that you'll be able to handle her. Just remember that she's not Gadget."
       "Nearly being incinerated by her in that volcano is a decent reminder. But if she comes back with us, does that mean she's going to be living here with us in HQ?" Chip thought out loud. Dale shuddered. "Ooh, I don't even want to think of that! Unless that little trickster's changed a lot, I wouldn't feel safe turning my back on her."
       Chip finished packing his spare clothes. "Well, finding out she has an entire family that will just adore her certainly'll give her good incentive to change. If she by some miracle does have a change of heart, we have to be willing to put what she did behind us. That'll be the hard part." Dale looked down at his shirt. "Maybe I can get Gadget to invent some body armor...life sure is strange, isn't it Chip? Who would've believed all of this stuff could happen?"
       "Not me, that's for sure. Just think how great it would be if we could actually change her. That would be the greatest victory, not just stopping evil, but changing that evil to good," Chip said.
       "Yeah, it would. I mean, we've stopped bad guys before, but to stop one of them from being bad, that would be really cool!" Dale agreed.
       Gadget knocked and poked her head around the corner of the open door. "Ready to go, guys? Monty's waking his parents and I'm sure it won't take them long. Watch out for Lahwhinie, Chip." Chip was getting a little irritated at the constant reminders. "Okay, I get the idea everyone. Look out for her wicked wiles. Duly noted."

       Cheddarhead and Kate had just come down at Monty's bequest and had sat down with plates of food when Monty spoke and put his arm around Eva. Like last night, Cheddarhead and Kate looked at each other and then to Eva and her twin sister. Then they started eating again.
       "Mum, dad, I'd like ya both to meet my formerly late wife, Eva Râboga," Monty said. "Ain't ya surprised? She was s'posed ta be dead and she ain't! Your daughter-in-law's alive!" Cheddarhead shrugged his shoulders. "After last night, lad, nothin' would surprise us too much." Then the elder Erskine got up and took Eva's hand. "Lass, we're roight glad ta see you're not dead an' all. I 'spose there's a grand story ta go with it?"
       Eva recounted her tale once again and Kate and Cheddarhead agreed it was indeed a grand tale. "Well, we'd best get back ta eating now 'cause we'll need a good meal if we're heading ta Hawaii." Cheddarhead said, pointing his index finger in Monty's direction. "Remember son, ya never know where your next meal'll come from, so it's best to grab a bite when ya kin!"
       "Eva, do you love our boy?" Kate asked. Eva was surprised at the bluntness of the question but recovered quickly. "Yes, yes I do. I regret all that happened, and now I vhould like to make up for it all." Kate nodded and went back to her breakfast. Monty looked on Eva with satisfaction. "Well, Eva luv, that means they've accepted ya inta the family," Monty said. Eva was caught off-guard. "Well, I will say one thing - I vhas not expecting your family to be so...accommodating."
       Kate finished up, and walked out of the kitchen with Eva. "I'm sure we'll have time to talk things out later, dearie. For now, we've got an adventure ahead, and no true Erskine worth his or her salt misses out on an adventure!"

       Chip and Dale finished packing whatever gear they thought they might need, and Dale smiled to himself when Chip put an extra rope into his mapcase. Dale hoped that Chip was really able to handle something like Lahwhinie so soon after his losing Gadget - after all, how often do you meet a girl that looks exactly like the one you fell in love with? The two munks returned to the main room, where Cheddarhead and Kate were now both talking with Eva.
       "Hey everyone, the munk squad's here! Let's get this show on the road!" Dale said. Chip and Dale ate quickly, and then Monty joined them to load the RangerPlane and the RangerWing. It was decided that Cheddarhead and Kate would fly with Chip and Foxy, and the others would pile into the RangerPlane with Dale and Gadget. As Chip entered headquarters again, he looked at the clock - 7 a.m. **Hard to believe so much has happened and it's still early in the day.**
       "Well, we're ready to head out," Chip announced. "Even with the jet stream it's going to take some time, so anyone who has to use the little mouse's, chipmunk's, bat's, or fly's room better get to it!"
       "I call shotgun!" Dale said, running outside. Gadget gathered up the pack she'd prepared. "Golly, thanks everyone. I know how most of us feel about Lahwhinie and to seek her out and to try to make peace with her won't be easy, but thanks for being willing to try."
       Monty looked on Gadget with a father's sense of admiration. Could it be possible that Gadget and Lahwhinie were sisters? They couldn't possibly be more different in personality. "Yer right, luv. Lahwhinie's me little girl too and I'll not stop lookin' till I find her and tell her I'm her dad and that I love 'er." Eva came up next to Monty. "That we love her."
       With that, Bianca and Bernard sensed it was time for them to leave. "Thank you for coming back into my life, sister," Bianca said, hugging her. "You vere always welcome among us."
       "Thank you, Bianca," Eva said. "I vill send your regards to Lahwhinie when I see her."
       "If you need help over there, don't forget about the local R.A.S. office," Bernard said. "I'll alert them to be standing by."
       "Thank you, Bernard," Eva said, kissing his cheek. "You are most kind."

       Bernard blushed a little, and Bianca chuckled and took his arm. "Come, Mister Bernard. We have a long day ahead yet, and it has already been eventful." They both waved goodbye, and then the urgency of the mission took over. Soon the two planes were full, and they climbed high into the heavens. Chip had sufficient training on the RangerWing to handle her in high-velocity winds, and he generally stuck to Gadget's lead in the RangerPlane. As the jet-stream winds took hold, both planes buckled and lurched with the onslaught.
       "Now this is a roide!" Cheddarhead said merrily. "Reminds me o' the time I rode a joey with the hiccups in the great Sydney ta Melbourne race!" In the other plane, Monty turned to his wife. "So, Eva luv, tell us about yer adventures. I'm dyin' ta hear about what ya been doin' all these years."
       "Yeah! It sounded like real secret agent stuff!" Dale said.
       "Vell, my travels took me onto nearly every continent. It started in Naples…" Eva began.

       The ride in the jet stream was a fast affair, and in a couple of hours the Rangers soon left the cold winds for the warmth of the tropics. Chip followed Gadget down, and the two planes headed for the big island. It was a sparkling day with the clear blue skies, warm trade winds and beautiful surf that make Hawaii one of the most favored tourist spots. They set down next to some thick shrubbery, near the area where they'd first met Lahwhinie.
       Gadget hopped out, immediately surveying the scene. "Well, this is as good a place to start as any. Over there's the volcano she nearly incinerated the village with. Golly, this is going to be tough - oh, I said that already, didn't I?" Dale looked around for any sign of Lahwhinie, not exactly sure he wanted to see one. "Yeah, she's gonna be a tough nut to crack."
       "C'mon, let's see if Chief Hubba Hubba is in!" Chip said. The large contingent followed Chip and the others to a grass hut, where a rotund mouse with dark eyes was playing checkers with a fellow islander. He looked up to see who was coming in, and his opponent took advantage by flipping the board around and jumped the checkers that had been his.
       "You Rescue Rangers!" Hubba Hubba said. "You come back for sunning and funning?" Chip approached the chief. "No sir. We're here on business. We're looking for Lahwhinie." Hubba Hubba's countenance changed to one of disgust.
       "You mean girl that would be queenie? She no good, we make her go," Hubba Hubba said. Gadget had been afraid that might happen. "Please, we must find her. We just discovered that she's my sister!"
       "She's right, mate," Monty said. "It'd mean the world to us if ya could point us to Lahwhinie."
       Hubba Hubba rubbed his chin. "Cheating girl your sister? Hmm…Hubba Hubba not know right where she go, but since you save village we find out. Shaka Baka, he still here but I know he looks for her. Maybe he know." Hubba Hubba led them to the beach, where the beach bum known as Shaka Baka was heading toward shore at the bottom of a huge wave. He disappeared for a few moments in the tube created by the wave, but re-emerged. He may not have been the most intelligent mouse, but he knew how to surf. The wave brought him to shore, where the others were waiting.
       "Whoa, it's like the Ranger dudes!" Shaka Baka asked. Shaka Baka looked up at the group, then he looked at Gadget strangely. "Uh, Lahwhinie?" Gadget shook her head. "No, Shaka. Don't you remember? She doesn't wear coveralls now, does she? I'm Gadget!"
       "Oh yeah! You're the babe that looks just like Lahwhinie! So, what's up, dudette?" Shaka asked. Gadget ignored his calling her 'babe.' "We're trying to find Lahwhinie. I just found out she's my sister!"
       "An' my daughter! D'ya know where she might be, mate?" Monty asked.
       Shaka Baka stuck his board upright in the sand. 'Well, ya see when the babe split from the tribe she was like in a major bind 'cause she didn't really know how to do much of anything. We tried living with a rad bunch of natives for a while, and the babe did okay."
       "Sounds like she could get along if she wanted, then," Monty asked.
       "What happened next?" Gadget said.
       "Yeah, she could get along, but she had the patience of a major wave headin' to shore. So one day she headed out of there and like said she'd like find a place all her own. She got in mondo trouble, 'cause she liked this beach that had a tidal pool but the human that lived there was one tough bro. I had to go in and get the babe out before these two gnarly-looking dobermans of his tried swallowing her for dog chow!" Shaka said.
       Eva came over and used the gentle voice her sister was so well-known for. "Please, my friend, take us to her." Charlie and Kate came up beside her. "Yeah, time's-a-wastin' mate!" Cheddarhead said.
       "That poor dearie could be in who-knows-what kind of trouble," Kate said.
       Shaka Baka looked sad, and sat down on the sand. "Well all right, but I'm sorta bummed out 'cause the babe dumped me and headed off looking for a better guy. I followed her around for the next few weeks, and she was always with some big shot or another. She could always con anyone out of anything. So finally she settles on this Italian dude with some megabucks-he like has this huge yacht and plane and all. Last I saw, she was playing tennis with him at the dude's private courts. I asked the dudette if she was coming back, and she said to scram because she was gonna try to marry the dude! Well, I didn't feel so hot after that so I left. But I'll take you there, I guess."
       Chip didn't the sound of this at all, but knew they had to follow up the lead. "We appreciate your willingness to help us under the circumstances." **Circumstances I understand all too well.** Shaka Baka looked at Chip dully, not catching the meaning of those big words. "Okay, dude. C'mon, and I'll show you their pad."

       Shaka Baka got in the RangerPlane and directed Gadget to the site. The occupants of both planes gasped when they saw the "pad" the surfer mouse pointed to. It was one of the most luxurious-looking homes they'd ever seen a mouse have. It wasn't even a house really - more like a mansion. It was secluded in a hidden grotto with a spectacular waterfall at the rear of it. The space in the grotto wasn't big enough for a human home, but it was just right for a mouse estate. There was a tennis court, a huge swimming pool, auxiliary housing for servants and all of it overshadowed by what had to be a fifty-room edifice with tailored gardens surrounding it. Chip indicated that they should land safely away from the estate, so they headed for the far side of the grotto from the house and landed.
       "Chip, Dale, Foxy an' Zipper, I think it's best that you blokes stay here while the rest o' us go on alone," Monty said. He saw the protest in Chip's eyes, but stood firm. "It'll be difficult enough for her an' us as it is. We should just start off with the family reunion thing and see where it goes. She moight not want to have anything to do with us, anyway." Chip deliberated the point, but nodded in agreement. "Okay, we'll stay here. Just watch yourselves, because money like that can buy some heavy security."
       "Security?!" Cheddarhead said. "There ain't been the security made what kin stop Cheddarhead Charlie! I'll bust us in there, sure as I'm the dingo-rasslin' champion o' Queensland!" Gadget didn't the idea of busting in, knowing how Lahwhinie could be. "All right. Let's just be careful, though. We don't know what this guy's like or what she'll do."
       "Don't worry, Gadget. You me an' Eva will keep the menfolk in line, won't we?" Kate said.

       Cheddarhead fumed a bit as the smaller group skirted the beach, staying in the jungle-like cover they'd landed in. They walked behind the waterfall and emerged at the edge of more jungle. The mansion was now about fifty feet away, with the front of it facing to their right and an Olympic-sized swimming pool right in front of them. Gadget took out a pair of binoculars and looked back to the other side, where Chip was also using a pair to scout their position.
       "Chip signals it's okay. Let's go!" Gadget said.
       Charlie stood up, putting his fists on his hips. "Since we're gonna get their attention anyway, why bother with all this sneakin'? Let's just ring the bell…" He began marching toward the estate, and Monty stood up too. "Dad's right, there's no gentle way o' doin' this." Kate grabbed the two of them by the shirt collars. "Now just you wait, you two! That's no way to go into a situation where you could be outnumbered and outweaponed. Hold yer horses till we get into a good spot and can look around."
       The two Erskine men grumbled but complied. They kept to cover, using the manicured shrubs and hedges. Once they were on the far side of the pool, they saw they had good reason to wait. Two big mice came out of the mansion, obviously bodyguard types. Those two were joined by two others just as imposing from a cluster of trees on the side of the mansion. Then another mouse came out - he was dressed in an Italian suit, and appeared the very height of luxury living. A minute later and the mouse followed by his escort headed into the trees and then a rodent-sized plane took off. Two of the guards returned, and took up position in front of the house. At the same time, a girl mouse in a one-piece white swimsuit exited the side of the house and headed for the swimming pool
       "Crikey! She's a mirror image of ya, Gadget luv," Cheddarhead said.
       "Two peas in a pod," Kate added.
       Eva began gently sobbing as she looked upon her other daughter for the first time. Monty put his arm around her shoulder. "Ya gotta be strong, Eva luv. Like we warned ya, she's gonna be ornery and I don't think she's gonna believe us when we tell her we're her family, so you gotta be ready for that. It's gonna take us a while ta get through ta her." Gadget watched with the others from under the hedge's cover as Lahwhinie headed for the pool. "'Just like sisters' she told me once, before she betr...before. Well, we'll see now if we can really be just that."

       As Lahwhinie approached, the group pulled back into the large hedge, so as not to startle her at first. Soon the guards went back inside, and the coast was clear. Lahwhinie had just finished her swim and was toweling off when she looked down into the water at her reflection. Then she noticed an identical face to hers behind her and jumped back.
       "You!? But you shouldn't be here! What are you doing here?" Lahwhinie said defensively. Monty put his hands up as he and the other Erskines came out from under cover. "Cool yer jets, Lahwhinie luv, we're not here to start trouble. We're here ta talk. You better sit down for this, it's a doozy!"
       Lahwhinie frowned slightly at the mice in front of her, but decided against calling the guards for the moment. "Okay, I guess if you risked your necks to come here I can give you a minute or two. You can see I've done all right for myself. Renaldo takes care of all my little needs." Lahwhinie sat on the diving board, picked up a nail file and started filing her nails nonchalantly.
       Monty worked up his courage, and walked to where he was close to her. "Okay, we're all willin' to put aside yer tryin' ta kill us and all, due to the facts we all learned last night. Lahwhinie...I'm yer dad." Eva stepped forward to stand beside him. "And I am your mother, Lahwhinie, dahling."
       "We really are sisters, Lahwhinie!" Gadget said. Kate looked the spoiled mouse over. "I'm yer grandmother, Kate"
       "And I'm yer granddad, Cheddarhead Charlie...on yer dad's side, that is," Cheddarhead said. Monty gave her as sincere a look as he could manage. "And we want ya to come home with us so we can be a family."
       Lahwhinie blinked and looked at them all for a few moments, and then she laughed. She laughed so hard she had to hold her stomach for laughing and she rolled backwards and nearly fell off the diving board. It took her a bit to get it out of her system, and when she opened her eyes again, she saw that they weren't laughing. "Okay, I give up. What's the joke?"
       "Would we have traveled all the way from New York to Hawaii just to pull a fast one on ya, luv?" Monty said. "No joke. We're yer flesh and blood family. Only last night did we discover that yer our daughter."
       "My twin sister," Gadget added.
       Eva looked on her lovingly. "My dear one, taken from me at birth. All these years I've longed to see you." Cheddarhead nodded in accentuation. "We Erskines loike a good joke as much as the next fella, but this ain't the kinda thing that ya joke about. Yer family, lass. An Erskine through and through."
       "And you're a Râboga as well. Isn't that neat?" Gadget asked, hopefully.

       Lahwhinie looked at them for a long minute and then shrugged. "Well, what does it matter if it is true? I'm set for life now, so you don't need to worry about me. You can just toddle back to New York and have a merry time."
       Monty knew she was trying to dismiss them, but he wasn't ready to give up. "I know yer all mean inside, cause ya grew up without anyone ta care about ya, but we're here to change all that." Eva chimed in again. "You vere raised by an organization called R.O.D.E.N.T.S., in a special project called 'Operation Phoenix'. You escaped with several other kids and you've been on your own since then. Has your heart grown so cold that there is no room left for love inside?"
       Lahwhinie stared at them some more. "I don't know any Project Phoenix, lady. Yeah, the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. handled my room and board, but they didn't care about me. I got out of that dungeon when I was sixteen. I didn't know what to do, so I stayed with the natives until 'sister' here ruined my scam to become their queen. As for love, no one's ever loved me so all I know to do is look out for number one. There, that satisfy you?"
       Lahwhinie stared at them some more, expecting a reaction of some kind. When all they did was look on her in sympathy, she piped up again. "Look, I don't care if you are my family! The R.O.D.E.N.T.S. treated me like scum, and I couldn't wait to get out of that compound of theirs. Now I'm finally in a position to have the good life. Once I marry Renaldo and divorce him, I'll be set for life. Even if I am your kid, I'm no good and I know it. So get lost."

       Eva shuddered as she recognized so much of her former self in this girl. "I know that hate's all that they taught you, but you are my baby. I love you, we all do. That's what brought us here."
       "Yer Eva's right," Monty said. "All's forgiven, luv. Yer our prodigal daughter. Well, yer heart and soul've been dragged through the dirt and muck o' life. Let us help ya wash off the crud. There's still time fer a second chance."
       Gadget had a pleading look. "You called me your sister once, there's still time to make it come true." Lahwhinie crossed her arms. "So you're all sopping over with niceties for your long-abandoned girl? Tell me, what could you possibly offer me to compare with this? What single incentive do you have that could make me get up and leave here? Well?"
       "Ve can offer you what no one has ever offered you before. We will love you because of who you are and not because of your looks," Eva said. Monty decided to press the point. "Yer mom already told ya that you were taken from her at birth. She didn't even know that Gadget had a twin until after she destroyed R.O.D.E.N.T.S. We want ta offer ya the home an' family ya never had, that ya shoulda had."

       Just then the buzzing of a plane announced the return of Renaldo. Lahwhinie looked that way, and then back at them. "I'll think about it, but right now you'd better get out of here. When Renaldo gets back, he'll come here first and if he catches you he'll let Hugo and the boys loose on you. I'll let you know my answer tomorrow - Renny's get a meeting and then we're going to meet up at his yacht. You can find me at the docks at four. I'm sure Shaka Baka knows where they are."
       Taking advantage of Lahwhinie's distraction, Eva rushed up to her and hugged her tightly. "No matter vhat, dahling, we love you." Lahwhinie hadn't been prepared for that, but she didn't push Eva away at first. When Renaldo called out her name, she broke away. "Coming, dear!" Then she looked back at them. "Toodles. See you tomorrow." Lahwhinie ran off and the bunch disappeared into the brush. They watched as she and Renaldo embraced and then went into the mansion. "She vill come with us. I can feel it in my heart."
       "I hope yer right, luv," Monty said. "You ready to have a sister, Gadget?"
       Gadget had been thinking it over. "Well, my parents....uh, I mean Ge...dad...uh, I was always told to be willing to give others a chance." Kate stared at Renaldo through narrowed eyes. "We'll save her from that scoundrel. Livin' together, and they ain't even married! The cheek o' that fella!"
       "Yeah, anyone who don't treat an Erskine with respect is in fer a heap o' trouble," Cheddarhead said. The Erskine family worked their way back across and reported their findings. Chip began to tumble the facts over in his practiced mind.
       "We might get further with her if we can find out what this Renaldo person actually does. You don't wear Italian suits and own an estate by accident - even if he's an honest businessman, which I doubt, I'm sure he's known locally. And why such a short trip in that plane? There wasn't anything that close to here on land. It was a seaplane....." Chip said, thinking.
       Monty looked back at the mansion, hoping to get a glimpse of Lahwhinie. "We'll haveta keep an eye on that bloke, all right. He's the kind that ya find on the shady side o' the law. I hope me girl's not done anything she'll regret." Eva looked back over there with him. "I hope not, either. Let's go for now, and ve can find out more in the morning."
       The Rangers returned to Hubba Hubba's hut, where they dropped off Shaka Baka. He hadn't liked going with them, but received their thanks anyway. They hadn't made arrangements of course, so Hubba Hubba obliged by letting them stay in a group of guest huts. That night they were all treated to an authentic Hawaiian luau, complete with native hula and fire dancers. Even Cheddarhead was impressed - so much so that he tried to catch a fire baton in his mouth and ended up catching his hat on fire. The sand he flung it into kept it from getting too scorched, and provided the best entertainment of the evening. As the time began to get late, the couples separated and stared at the moon over the Pacific. Most of the thoughts were on Lahwhinie and her situation.
       "Dale, I'm worried about her!" Gadget said, as they walked down the beach. "I really thought she'd wise up when she found out we were family, but she hardly batted an eyelash. I know mom and dad are optimistic, but..."
       "She's tough and independent, and we're her worst enemies to boot," Dale reminded her. "She's used to bein' alone and maybe that's how she wants it. We can't give up hope, though. She can still turn out good." Gadget looked out at the waves shimmering in the moonlight. "It's scary, though. When I saw her, I thought, 'I could have ended up like that.' I feel so bad for her now." Gadget pulled Dale close. "And I feel so lucky to have found you."
       "Don't worry, she missed out on a lot of the good stuff, but we can still show 'er that there's still a lot of stuff that's still good and fun an' all without being bad," Dale said. Gadget looked self-conscious. "Jeepers, I just had a thought. Is she evil or does she just act that way? I mean, we're twins and twins are renowned for having the same kinds of lives. Does that mean I could act or be that way, or does it mean that in truth she's like me?"
       Dale gave it some thought, and spoke his mind - something he was getting much better at these days. "She's like you if you never had anyone to love you. You had a mom and dad, an' she had nothing. Don't sweat it, anyone could go bad with the time she's had. I bet she can be just like you, all warm and kind on the inside. We just have to get through her defenses and let out the warm and wonderful Lahwhinie that she's never been willing to let anyone see." Gadget hugged him as they went on down the shoreline. "I hope so, Dale. For her sake, I really do..."
       At Renaldo's mansion, Lahwhinie had changed for the night into a designer evening dress of royal blue with a ruby and diamond necklace to adorn her neck. Renaldo was on the phone most of the night with someone in Spain, so she entertained herself with the latest magazines and the television. That was a typical night for her, and she had resigned herself to it. After all, what's a little boredom when you'll soon have all the wealth you want? Renaldo finally got off the phone and joined her. His Italian was present, but not thick.
       "Ah, there you are my pet! I apologize greatly, but I was held up in a business deal. Nothing you need to worry your pretty leetle head about.." Renaldo said, kissing her on her forehead, as was his custom. "I would show my affections more strongly, but the pre-nuptials are not yet recorded and there is pleenty of time for such things after the wedding, si?"
       "I suppose..." Lahwhinie said, disinterested.
       Renaldo patted her head. "I knew you would see it my way. Now here's enough money to cover whatever leetle desire you have on your shopping tour. Just remember not to bankrupt me until the inheritance is cleared, mi amore."
       Lahwhinie schooled herself into a loving look. "I wouldn't dream of it, darling." She kissed him, and started to hug him when Renaldo stood up. "Your room is ready as always. I have more papers to look over tonight, and I will meet you for martinis at four tomorrow afternoon on the yacht. I look forward to seeing you there, dolcezza..."

       Renaldo blew her a kiss and then retreated to his study. Lahwhinie sighed and returned to her reading. She knew he didn't really love her, but that wasn't the point anyway. Perhaps in time they'd both learn to love each other, but for now he was simply her bankroll and she was another of his pretty possessions.
       Lahwhinie stayed up a little while longer and then went to bed. Once it was quiet, she let her thoughts wander and considered what had happened that afternoon. She'd never had a real family, and the idea did hold some interest for her. At the same time, Renaldo provided certainty for her. She thought more on what had happened with her and the Rangers, and remembered how she had deceived them all, especially the two chipmunks. They had been so easy to manipulate, and when they were at the luau together, she'd wondered at their loving stares. Then a strange thought hit her - she'd said at the time they were having a good time, and now she realized that part was true. She did have a good time and liked being with them, in spite of what she did. Especially the one…Lahwhinie shook off the idea, and rolled over to get some sleep.

       Back at the beach, the ladies went to one hut and the guys went to another. Much hugging preceded the separations, and many hopeful words for the morning were exchanged. Chip had a hut to himself, and he was glad for that because there were many thoughts running through his mind tonight. He took a last look out at the ocean, felt the warm trade winds blow his fur and then stepped inside. The cot was comfortable enough, but Chip couldn't get to sleep.
       He knew why well enough - Lahwhinie. He'd hoped that she'd never re-enter his life, but that hope was vain now. She was Gadget's sister. Why hadn't he figured that out before? Was it the deceptive allure of the girl, or was it just that he wanted to believe that the kisses she'd given him had come from Gadget? Chip pondered these matters until he was drowsy, and then a shadow fell over his hut.
       "Hey, little britches!" a deep voice sounded. "Come on out, it's time for another rap session!" Chip did so, and found that Baloo and Henry Higgins were standing there - both in Hawaiian garb. Higgins appeared put-out. "Wretchedly gaudy attire! Why can't the Hawaiians learn to dress?" Baloo put a hand on Higgins' shoulder. "Hey, Higgy buddy, it's the way of the islands! You gotta go with the flow."
       "I take it I'm dreaming again," Chip said. "So what's it about this time?" Baloo pointed to a nearby patch of trees and undergrowth. "Come on, little britches. It's time you were clued in on the rest of your dream."
       Chip was about to question them again, but his two dream "guides" were already heading through the trees. Chip followed and soon they were at a luau. Chip couldn't believe it - it was a replay of that time when he and Dale had met Lahwhinie. The trio watched as Lahwhinie kissed Dale, and then Chip. Then the scene changed to where she'd kissed Chip again to avoid his discovering Lahwhinie's deception with Gadget.
       "So that's why she did it! Why I oughta…" Chip started. Higgins held up a hand. "Now, now, Chip. We're only putting on this ruddy little spectacle for your own good. After all, we're only a part of this experience and it's not our fault that you have feelings for the shrew."
       Chip got angry at once. "What do you mean 'feelings'?! I don't care about that…that philandering hussy! She tried to get us all killed, then she fooled both me and Dale with her kissing act…" Baloo picked him up as Chip was about to storm off. "Hey, easy there! You'll pop your spring at that rate."

       Baloo set him on a rock. "Now listen, pardner. You remember how the other dream went, don't ya?" Chip was getting impatient. "Yeah, yeah. I was creating a Gadget fantasy and Foxy's my real love. I've already figured that out! I know I love Foxy and not Gadget."
       "But you're still not seeing the full picture!" Higgins said, breaking in. "Don't you get it? Your Gadget fantasy was just window frosting over the truth!" Chip didn't have any idea what this meant, and Higgins saw it. He snapped his fingers and the original dream sequence appeared in front of them. Gadget and Dale were kissing on a rock by a waterfall. Higgins froze the moment in time. "You see, lad? The girl you thought was the princess was actually the banshee! Look closer." Chip did so, and in the freeze frame he began to notice things. She was wearing makeup, and she had on bracelets. As Chip continued to watch, the coveralls changed to Lahwhinie's island garb. "But she's got on Gadget's goggles!" Chip protested. "How was I supposed to tell the difference?"
       Higgins shook his head and pointed at the frozen image. "You wanted to believe it was Gadget because that's what you believed at the time! This is where all your trouble began, right here."
       "Are you…are you trying to tell me that I was jealous of Lahwhinie kissing Dale at the luau? And that's why I got so insanely mad when I found out about Dale and Gadget?" Chip asked. "No! No, it's not true!" Higgins put his hands on his hips. "Oh come now, Chip. Be a man and face up to facts! Underneath that painted exterior and those horrible manners and those forward words of hers, you obviously found something in that withered heart of hers that you liked."
       "But…" Chip started.
       "But nothin', little britches," Baloo said. "You may not be willing to admit it, but when you didn't know she was Lahwhinie, you found yourself liking her very much." Chip stared at them, incredulous. "But she was just leading me on! You were the ones that led me to Foxy! You showed me that I was living in a fantasy world with Gadget!" Baloo sat next to Chip. "And we were right. Foxy does love you, and you love her. But you also have feelings for Lahwhinie, and have ever since you met her. She planted that seed in you and it took some time to sprout but it did. You didn't want to admit it, so you conveniently projected your feelings for her on someone who looked just like her and ended up in a ruddy awful mess."

       Chip was afraid to ask, but somehow these two seemed to know everything. "And does Lahwhinie have any feelings for me?" Baloo and Higgins look at each, as if making a decision. Then Baloo turned back to Chip. "She hasn't had feelings of any kind, not a long time. She can be helped, but you can't do it alone. There is someone who will help you, though."
       "Someone? Who?" Chip asked.
       "You'll find out," Higgins said, cutting him off. "But a woman like that's a ruddy stick of dynamite, just waiting to explode! You can't get too close or be too careless, lad. Otherwise, she'll blow up in your face."

       Chip didn't like the implications of this at all. "Look, as soon as I find out what happened to Foxy's family I'm gonna marry her! So you don't have to worry. I'll just leave Lahwhinie alone!" Baloo shook his head. "We can't tell you all the answers, but that you can't do." Now Chip really didn't like it. "But again, what about Foxy? I can't just leave her for a girl that's just as likely to kill me as kiss me!"
       Baloo and Higgins started for the trees again, and Chip followed. When they reached the hut, Higgins spoke. "We're not asking you to leave Foxy, but you've got to face that little cyclone and deal with your feelings one way or another. When the time for a choice comes, remember to follow your heart. You really have no choice, you know. You'll fall prey to love sometime, just as all the others have. Love has strange ways about it. Expect nothing, but be ready to give everything."
       Chip couldn't figure what any of that meant, and turned to go back in the hut. A blonde-haired mouse dressed in a blue floral outfit, a yellow lei and red braclets stopped him short. She smiled, put her arms around him, and as she closed the gap between them Chip awoke with a jerk, heavy with perspiration. It had seemed so real! But Lahwhinie? Chip laid back down with a shudder, and hoped for morning to come soon.



Chapter 8 - A Race Against Time/A War of Wills

       When the tropical sun painted the waves golden in the dawn, Chip Maplewood was up first. The ocean atmosphere agreed with him, and he woke up hungry. The natives were up as well, and Chip grabbed a piece of fresh pineapple they cut and headed down the beach, jogging. He couldn't help but remember the time he and Dale had hidden in a hollowed-out pineapple to infiltrate Fat Cat's lair. The memory brought a smile to his face, but his thoughts quickly wandered back to Lahwhinie. Should they even interfere at all? She seemed happy where she was, and she'd rubbed him the wrong way the last time they met. And then there was the dream...Chip shrugged it off. After all, he had Foxy now and probably any positive feelings he'd have about Lahwhinie would be related to Gadget. He'd just decided that when Dale caught up with him.
       Dale had just finished a macadamia nut, and was carrying another. "Chip, isn't this great? I love Hawaii! It's the only place on earth I can wear this shirt and not have people stare."
       "Yeah, you should feel right at home Dale. So what do you think of all this business with Lahwhinie? Do you think she's really worth it?" Chip asked. Dale began working on the second nut. "She's Gadget's sister and Monty's daughter, that makes it worth it. How do you feel about this? I know Lahwhinie had more of an effect on you than she did to me."

      Chip turned and stared out at the waves. "I'm trying not to feel anything." Dale patted his friend on the shoulder. "That's the spirit, this is business. You have to help convince a mean Gadget clone to go straight. That's your arena." Chip started to say something, then stopped. Then he started again. "Dale, I...am I doing the right thing with Foxy?"
       Dale was surprised that Chip would ask such a question. "You're asking me for advice?" Chip felt stupid for asking, but he had to know. "Look, you're my friend again and I feel I can trust you. Foxy's after me to ask her to marry her again, but I just don't feel right about it."
       "What's the problem? Don't you love her?" Dale asked. Chip started to just let it go and end the talk, but it was bothering him so much he decided to go on. "Yeah, I love her. That's the problem. You see, I know she's just abandoning any dreams of her own to be with me. She's very sweet and kind, but I don't feel right knowing that she's giving up on herself."
       Dale was still getting used to Chip being open with him. It showed a level of trust that Dale found heartening. "Chip, you gotta do what you think's right. I think what you said makes sense. If you're not gonna be happy letting her marry you, then you've gotta help her get to the point where you both're happy."
       "That's just it though - I feel selfish putting her off that way. She's been totally helpful to me and got me through the rough spots. She's nice and comforting, and she's willing to do the things I enjoy. Now she's starting to learn music, and I'm enjoying teaching her but she's only doing it to be nice to me. The last thing I'd want to do is hurt her, but it's like she's just turning the lights off on her initiative. It hurts me to see that," Chip said.
       Dale hesitated to give Chip advice, but he felt he had to try to help and motioned for them to sit down on the sand. "I know I'm the last person in the world to be talking on relationships and all to you, but you have to follow what's in your heart, inside. It's not being fair to her if you give in and don't give her a full shot at being complete. If it was Gadget, I'd go to the ends of the earth to be sure she was happy."

       For his part, Chip wasn't used to sharing his thoughts like this but things had changed so much and he had to have someone to confide in. Why not Dale? "I never told you this, but I've always been afraid of being alone. I think the feeling comes from the early days, but rejection hits me pretty hard - I guess you noticed. I'm concerned that if I put her off much longer she might dump me and leave."
       Dale was impressed that Chip was being this open with him. The chipmunk sitting next to him was certainly not the one he'd known before. "Sometimes you just haveta take that chance, but you have to risk gettin' burned. You gotta put her first, even if it's not what she says she wants. If it's meant to be, it'll work out." Chip stopped to pick up a shell, and put it in his pocket. "I guess there's just no easy way around this. Thanks for letting me lean on you some. And let's keep this just between us, okay?"
       "No problem, Chip. You've always been there for me in tough times. I'm glad I'm finally old enough to help you out some," Dale said. Chip shook his old friend's hand and then pulled him up so they could head back up the beach. The others were awake now, and once everyone had finished eating they discussed the day ahead. Chip was grateful when Dale purposefully steered the conversation away from sensitive points for him, then the talk turned to Renaldo. One of the natives had heard of him, and what he'd heard wasn't good. He was a local big spender whose bankroll never seemed to dwindle. The native put them in contact with the owner of a local club, a rather gruff-looking mouse in a white suit.

     Peter Volta was the proprietor of the Sand and Surf Club on the eastern shore of the big island, a popular spot for natives and tourists alike. No one called him Peter though. The reason why was evident the moment one saw the mouse. He had a Casablanca complex, dressing and even talking like the main character of the classic movie. So when anyone used a name with him, it was always 'Rick'.
       "Renaldo? Yeah, he's been in here a few times. Always blows a lot of dough and makes noise. You trying to collect from him?" Rick said casually. Chip decided to play his game. "No, but I am looking into him and where he gets his bankroll. And can you tell me anything about his girl, Lahwhinie?"
       Rick nodded at Gadget. "Lahwhinie? That's her behind you. Better leave her alone, if you know what's good for you." Gadget quickly got defensive. "I'm not Lahwhinie! I'm her twin sister, Gadget Hackwrench, uh, Erskine Hackwrench."
       Rick took a second look at her. "Before you spoke I could've sworn you were her. Well, if you're her sister I guess you've got a stake in this." Rick leaned over the bar. "Word on the street is Renaldo's a member of the 'family', if you know what I mean. Heavy into them for lots of G's, but handles a lot of their Pacific business. Now it seems he's been skimming off the top, and some of his brothers are coming to collect. If you like your sister, you'd better get to her quick or she could end up taking the fall with him."
       Monty knew that Renaldo character was no good. "Is there any word on how long they got till his 'family' lowers the boom?" Eva gave him her most pleading look. "Lahwhinie is our daughter and her life is very precious to us."
       Rick poured himself a martini. "Hey, you don't ask questions about them. They usually do the talking. But the word is, they're expected in anytime now. If you're going to try anything, watch yourself. Renaldo's a tricky one, and he'll do whatever he has to in order to save his skin."
       "We'll take that under advisement, mate," Monty said. Chip slipped Rick a generous tip. "Thanks. Say, does Renaldo have a place around here he lands his plane?" Rick pointed out the large looking-glass window to a far-off shore across the bay. "Yeah, there's a private strip near the old naval base. He's got a seaplane he usually keeps over there when he's on the island."
       "Thanks again. We'll make sure not to mention your name," Chip said.

       "I'd appreciate that," Rick said. "It keeps things peaceful in here." Rick went back to his business, and Chip led the others outside. "This is going to be touchy. If the mob's involved, then we'll have to be careful that we're not traced. Hopefully, Lahwhinie will just want to come with us and we can leave right away."
       Monty looked at the distant airstrip. "I hope she does, mate. I just hope she does." Dale shrugged his shoulders. "With her you just can't be sure." Gadget looked to Chip and Monty anxiously. "What do we do now? Just wait?" Monty rolled up his sleeves. "Lass, as an Erskine ya should know that we never wait! C'mon, mates! Let's get back to that Renaldo bloke's place and get me daughter outta there!"
       Eva walked by her husband's side, just as determined. "I know she has the right to do what she wants, but I must hear it from her before I will let her go." Cheddarhead and Kate had waited outside the club, and now joined up with them as they heard the information and the plan. "We jus' can't leave her with those mob types, even if she wants ta!" Cheddarhead retorted.
       "Yeah, we gotta give her a chance," Dale said. Chip didn't want to admit it, but Lahwhinie couldn't be left with Renaldo. "I think Cheddarhead's got a point. Lahwhinie's not had the balanced life experience most of us have. I'm not sure she could make an informed choice."
       "Well, let's find her then and make her make an informed choice," Monty said. Kate stepped in front of her son. "Now, now. You lads kin think about forcing all you want, but she's a person too. I think we should get her to safety, but after that she's got a right to make her own decision."
       Monty sighed and nodded. "Well, I suppose yer roight, ma. Don't want to make it sound like we don't respect her." Kate patted her boy's cheek. "Good, Cheeser. Now let's go in and get my granddaughter out of there!

      The group traveled back to the RangerPlane and Wing as fast as they could. Again, they approached the hidden grotto and entered from the far side as the sun shone just above the water. They slipped in through the jungle as silently as possible, and Monty took the binoculars from Chip and checked out the mansion and grounds at the jungle's edge.
      "What's the situation over there, Monty? Think we can get in undetected?" Chip asked. Monty grinned knowingly. "We Erskines are masters o' stealth. No problem, mate!" Gadget was looking through the other pair of binoculars. "Looks like he might have motion detectors around the front corners. The typical radius of those sensors is 90 degrees. If we approached from the middle left side..."
      "Far left, dear. You can still trip them with a lot of people going through at a near angle," Eva countered. Dale was getting excited. "Zowie, this is just like superspy stuff! Wish I had my dinner jacket with me now." Gadget smiled at Dale while Chip rolled his eyes and the group started out.
      Monty got in behind the ladies. "Well, I'll take yer word for it. Lead the way, Gadget luv." Cheddarhead grumbled something about "all this sneakin' around" as they approached under cover. Foxy had the easiest time of it as she silently glided over them, then used her ultra-sensitive hearing to make sure there were no other hidden surprises. Once they were assured, the team slowly crawled through the underbrush until they could see the rear windows of the house from a slight angle.
      The grotto was darker now because of its enclosed nature, and dusk had already come here. The eyes of the brave adventurers flashed dully in the ebbing light as they approached the house. All was silence as they reached a first-floor window. Monty crept along the ground and peeked in different windows until he saw Renaldo sitting at a desk. Open before him on the desk was a suitcase full of cash and he was counting it gleefully. There seemed to be no sign of Lahwhinie - that is, until Monty noticed a discarded framed photo of her sticking out of the garbage can. When he saw that, something snapped inside Monty.
      Renaldo's blood went cold when he heard a horrifying, unearthly scream of primal rage. He turned just in time to see the window shatter and an enraged obese mouse leaping into the room. The huge mouse rushed up to Renaldo and grabbed him by the collar and threw him onto the desk, knocking the suitcase to the floor, scattering the money. Renaldo was shaking with fear at this vengeful specter with cheese breath that towered over him.
      "Where's me daughter, you worthless slug?!" Monty demanded. Monty took the picture out of the trash and pushed it in Renaldo's face. "She's me daughter an' so help me if you done anything to her then I swear I'll rip ya inta pieces! TELL ME!!"
      Renaldo could only make choking sounds at first because of Monty's iron grip on his neck. He was coming close to blacking out, but Monty loosened his hold just enough. Then the posh-looking mouse became aware of the many other angry faces around him. "Eet's...too...late..."
      "Too late for what?!" Gadget demanded, fear rising up in her. "What have you done with to my sister?!" Kate punched her fist into her hand. "Ya better start talkin' mate, while ya still can. Me and Charlie only jus' became grandparents and we're not gonna let the likes o' you take one of 'em away from us."
      Just then, bodyguards arrived to investigate the commotion, as Monty had set off a silent alarm when he so abruptly entered. Monty had fire in his eyes, and rolled up his sleeves. "It's clobberin' time!" Before the gunsels were able to react, Monty and Cheddarhead had jumped them and taken away their weapons. They were about to resist further, but their boss signaled for them to sit down per his captors' instructions. Monty returned to the compromised culprit. "Me girl asked you a question, ya piece o' kangaroo hide. Where's me other girl, and she'd better be alive!"
      "They have her on the boat, and they're heading out for the open sea. There's nothing anyone can do to save them," Renaldo said.
      "They? You mean - you mean the mob's got her?" Chip said, aghast. "Why didn't you do something to save her?!" Renaldo looked even more terrified than before - he obviously was holding something back that was very important. "I couldn't!" Gadget stared down at him hard. "Couldn't, or wouldn't?"
      "Eet was either me or her!" Renaldo shouted. Eva and Gadget gasped at the same time, and suddenly it was more than clear. Monty resumed his grip in the mouse's neck, giving him just enough room to breathe. "Tell us where that ship's at now mate, and if you lie I'll see it that you'll never eat solid food again!"
      Dale put the money back in the suitcase and held it up. "What's the money for?" Then Foxy realized that something Renaldo'd said wasn't right. "What did you mean that no one can save 'them'? Who else is in danger?" Renaldo was almost paralyzed with fear, and he confessed everything. "I was deep in debt to the mob. They were going to keel me if I didn't pay them back. So...I traded Lahwhinie to them in exchange for settling part of my debt. But I still owe them plenty and can't pay it all, so I set a...it's too late."
      The hair on Monty's back stood up, and he wasn't alone. "A bomb? You set a BOMB?! You tell me where that bloomin' ship is or so help me I'll tie you up and send you where you wanna send her!"
      "It's set to go off at around the time they reach international waters, which is in about twenty minutes. I was going to vanish after the mob boys and Lahwhinie were blown up. That money's the horde I'd had set aside if I needed to vanish reel fast," Renaldo said.
      "Twenty minutes? What are we waiting for! Rescue Rangers, away!" Chip cried. Monty picked up Renaldo. "Yer comin' with us, mate. I'm holdin' you responsible for anythin' that happens to me daughter!" Dale picked up the suitcase of cash. "Consider this confiscated evidence." Eva poked his nose with her finger. "You vill take us to them, you wicked fiend."
      They backed out of the house, keeping the guards at bay. With a sense of such urgency that few of them had felt before, the Rangers crossed back to the planes and headed out full-tilt. Chip piloted the RangerWing and Dale, Kate and Eva went with him while Gadget flew the RangerPlane and took the others. Renaldo guided them to the area where the boat had been and then they continued on toward the open ocean. With five minutes left, they sighted it.
      "I tried to hail them on the radio, but they didn't respond," Chip shouted from the RangerWing. Renaldo sat in the back of the RangerWing with Monty and Eva, securely bound to his seat. "I sabotaged their radio as well. I didn't want anyone to warn them." Eva slapped his face. "If they have harmed my baby in any way, it is you who will pay." Monty gritted his teeth. "I second that motion, luv."
      Gadget flew the Plane at top speed toward the boat, knowing that every second counted. "I'll match speed with them and get as low as I can and someone can jump!" Cheddarhead and Kate nodded and prepared for the assault while Monty similarly loosened his seatbelt in the RangerWing. "I'm gonna get them guys that got our girl no matter what! This reminds me o' the time I was jumpin' with a bunch o' humans inta a no-fly zone on the outskirts of Kuwait. Seems this bunch o' rogue camels had been openin' oil pipelines and they were goin' in to investigate. I knew that there had ta be more behind it, so..."
      Chip watched Gadget begin to descend, and followed suit with the RangerWing. Eva leaned up front to address the chipmunks. "Let us handle this, boys. I know you are both the brave heroes, but this is my baby. If we need you, ve will signal." Chip and Dale looked at each other and nodded back at Eva.
      In both planes, the Erskines made ready to jump. Monty watched as the boat quickly became bigger beneath them. "Don't worry, Lahwhinie, daddy's comin'." Eva got ready next to him. "I vill not come back without you, dahling." In the Plane, Gadget brought her grandparents closer, closer. "Get ready-in five...four...three...two...one...go!"
      Kate and Cheddarhead leaped out of the Plane and landed on their feet on top of the boat's wheel house, Eva and Monty following from the Wing. Chip, Dale and Gadget took up positions just above the boat, ready to go in if needed. Monty and the others saw the guards rushing toward them. The elder Erskines in their first group brawl all rolled up their sleeves.
      "Eva luv, go look for Lahwhinie and we'll deal with these guys!" Monty shouted. Kate already had one of the smaller mobsters by the collar. "Cheeser, you better be lookin' for the bomb!" Charlie was roughing up another. "Me and yer mum can take care o' the loikes o' these ruffians! Go, son!" Kate and Charlie plowed into the rest of the onrushing goons to give Monty and Eva room to do their work. Monty headed for the wheelhouse, where Renaldo had told them he'd planted the bomb.
      Eva rushed below deck to find her daughter. She turned a corner and came face to face with a guard. Her training took over as she grabbed the surprised guard by the collar and pulled him forward, making him lose his balance and crash into a post, knocking him unconscious. She continued her frantic search, heading toward the stateroom at the head of the boat. Some sixth sense told her that Lahwhinie was behind the door, and she kicked it in with an expert karate move.
      Lahwhinie had given up trying to get out of the locked room, but her teary eyes opened wide in hope when she saw who it was. "Mom!?" Eva let out a cry of joy and ran over to her daughter, enveloping her. "Don't vorry, dahling. I'm here for you."
      Monty fought his way to the wheelhouse where he immediately shut down the engines. He dug through several piles of junk until he found the bomb underneath one of them - a clock with dynamite all around it, tied on securely. He picked up the bomb, hoisting it over his head and ran onto the deck. All the goons not taken care of fled at his presence. Monty got to the railing and with a grunt he threw the explosive device overboard.
      Gadget flew around and landed the Plane in the water in front of the boat. As she tied the Plane up to the boat and came on board, Cheddarhead and Kate were bringing the incapacitated crew up top. "We'd better do somethin' about the rest o' them lads on deck!" Cheddarhead said. A whistle drew his attention, and they both saw Chip and Dale tying up the remainder the of crew. "We sort of convinced them to stay put!" Chip said, holding up the rope they'd set up as a tripwire. "Yeah, we rope-a-doped those dopes!" Dale added.
      Gadget came over and helped them secure the unconscious crooks. "But where's the RangerWing?" Chip pointed to the other side of the boat. "When the boat stopped, we just put it on hover and turned down the power until it was stationary. Then we jumped over here and set up a little surprise for these guys behind their backs. When Monty ran out with the bomb, they never saw it coming."
      Their conversation was cut short when Eva led her daughter up on deck. When they saw Lahwhinie, everyone stopped in wonder. She was crying and leaning on her mother - certainly not the image they'd ever expected to see from her. Gadget went back to the Plane and called the authorities.
      Gadget turned to Renaldo, who was still bound in the RangerWing. "Lucky for you she's safe. I'm not a violent person, but if something had happened to her, you would've been in serious trouble." Monty walked up to Eva and Lahwhinie, putting his arms around his girl in a big hug. "Lahwhinie luv, you okay?"
      Lahwhinie glared at her captors and she was visibly upset. "They were going to make me be some kind of slave to them! I thought Renaldo was an easy mark and I was all set...I thought a lot of things. Then Eva came and freed me. I guess I'm grateful, but I know all I've done is shame you. Maybe it'd be better to just let me go to jail with them."
      Kate swept Lahwhinie off her feet and into a big hug. "Don't talk nonsense, dearie. Yer family, and we'll get you away from these bad apples and give you a whole new chance at life. We luv ya, no matter what ya done in the past. Just so that ya mind what ya do in the future." Charlie patted Lahwhinie on the head. "Yer grandma's right. There's always room fer more Erskines."
      Lahwhinie looked dejected as Kate put her down, then shrugged. "I don't know how to be different. I'd rather not be around that crud if I didn't have to be. I can't go back to the island until the heat's off, so I guess I'll go with you." Gadget hesitantly hugged Lahwhinie. "So, do you still want to be my sister?"
      "What does it matter? I guess I am, whether I want it or not," Lahwhinie said, not looking up. Then Lahwhinie really thought about it and gave out a laugh. "Boy, you for a sister - I feel like I'm in The Parent Trap or something!" Gadget had hoped for a more enthusiastic response, but she realized that this was Lahwhinie she was dealing with, after all.
      Chip stepped into the fray, now that he and Dale had finished tying up the unconscious ruffians. "Uh, guys? I don't mean to break up this potentially sentimental moment, but the authorities are going to be here anytime now. I think we'd better get going while the getting's good." Eva embraced her two daughters, hugging them together for the first time ever and burst into tears. "At last, I have both my babies with me."
      Lahwhinie squirmed some, but allowed Eva to finish the hug. "Yeah, let's get out of here." Chip pointed to the Wing. "We'll leave that louse Renaldo here on the boat and we'll get back to land, grab our stuff and hotfoot it back to the Big Apple." Monty jumped on the Plane and grabbed the still-bound Renaldo by the collar of his silk shirt. When he passed by Lahwhinie, she spit on his face and Eva had to hold her back from doing more.
      "He's not worth it, dear," Eva said. Lahwhinie gave Renaldo a horrible look. "I know. That's why I want to scratch his eyes out." She took one more look back at him and then got on the Plane.
      "Listen to yer ma, Lahwhinie. Restraint's one o' the proime character traits of an Erskine," Cheddarhead said. Then he went over and thumbed Renaldo's nose, causing it to vibrate. "Hope you and yer pallies enjoy yer stay in prison, laddie."
      Dale looked on the defeated criminals with satisfation. "Well, it could've all been a lot worse. Fortunately, this adventure didn't end with a bang." At that moment, the bomb that Monty had thrown overboard exploded. It was too deep to harm them, but it sent a spray of water over the boat, dotting everyone's clothes with drops of seawater.
      Chip watched as Eva joined the still-emotional Lahwhinie on the Plane and was amazed that such a moody person could be Gadget's twin. As both planes headed over the horizon, the rodent division of Hawaii-Five-O showed up to find a boat full of crooks and an attaché case full of drug money. Renaldo didn't have to be concerned about owing anyone anything for quite a long while after that.

            Once they'd been to Renaldo's house and claimed whatever clothes and things belonged to Lahwhinie, the Rangers left for home. They all agreed privately not to tell her about Gadget's wedding or discuss it until Lahwhinie had time to settle in with them. Soon enough, the RangerWing and Plane were docked at home in New York and headquarters had an additional occupant. Lahwhinie had said very little since the incident at the boat, but did speak when spoken to. Still, she seemed melancholy and like everyone else who felt that way ended up outside by the veranda. Everyone watched her from inside, while pretending not to.
       Monty made some cheese flapjacks and, putting them on a platter with some orange juice and some toast, he went out to his daughter. "Hungry, luv?" Lahwhinie looked up blankly. "Thanks." She took the food and sat down on one of the folding chairs and began eating slowly. Monty sat down next to her. "Is there anything you want to talk about, luv?" Lahwhinie didn't look up, but kept eating. "Nope."
       "Can I get anything for you? Hungry for anything else?" Monty asked. Lahwhinie shook her head, and turned away from him, looking at the blue sky dotted with white puffy clouds. Monty tried again. "We're all worried sick about ya, luv. Let us help ya settle in - at least give us a shot at bein' a family. There's a lot o' toime and good times to catch up on."
       Suddenly she turned and jumped up with one motion. "Look, you don't have to pretend for me! I know you feel responsible for me or something, but I don't need that. You're my dad, and that's that. I don't expect anything from you, and you don't owe me anything."
       Monty crossed him arms. "That's where yer wrong, luv. A parent owes it to his kids ta help them ta grow an' mature. You missed out on that and it sent ya down the wrong path in loife. You don't know how to love or be loved. Yer mom, sister and me can help ya learn about that."

       Lahwhinie snorted. "Oh, please! Spare me the poor little lost girl talk. I've done okay on my own, despite those wackos at R.O.D.E.N.T.S. who wanted me to be the next world-beater for them. It's not been a bed of roses, but at least I made that bed. I'm glad you and mom pulled me out of that mess but I'm not exactly helpless."
       "Yer right. Yer cruel, ruthless, vicious and cynical," Monty said flatly. "Let me ask ya, what do you want outta life? Do you like bein' alone, not bein' able to trust anyone? Don't ya ever want to be happy, ta be loved?" Lahwhinie barked out a laugh. "Love? What's that worth? You can't spend it. Trust? I've never turned my back on anyone, and I don't intend to start now. There is no Prince Charming - at least I learned that early on."
       Monty sat back down. "If ya had no regrets about the life you lived, why'd ya come home with us?" Lahwhinie went back to her eating. "Why not? One place's good as another." Eva, whose old habits were dying hard, had been secretly listening on the conversation and decided to make an appearance.
       "So, you have no desire to be a part of our family? You're just hiding out? Until what, dahling? Your next scam, the next playboy you can seduce - hoping he doesn't force himself on you? Vhere does it all end?" Eva asked.
       "What does it matter? I'll probably eventually find someone I can control then I'll gain enough financial security to be satisfied. Don't tell me that's not ethical, because I know guys - all they care about is my looks. Well, if that gets me what I want, that's fine. It's a hard world and you have to face facts," Lahwhinie said.
       Eva kept her face neutral and her voice calm. "I don't think you really believe that, dahling. You could have left the moment you got here, but you didn't. You know that you haven't been living right. Well, now's your chance to change things and we're going to help you all we can."

       Lahwhinie leaned back on the lawn chair, ran her fingers through her hair and started catching some rays. "Yeah, whatever." Eva pulled Monty inside so they could talk freely. "She is just like I was at her age, but I can see through her. She's hurt, and trying not to show it. I think she needs a friend."
       "Any suggestions, luv?" Monty asked. Eva watched as Chip came in the room and gave them a sideways glance and then proceeded on to the couch. "I think maybe he could reach her," Eva said. "But he doesn't want to dredge up his old feelings, because they hurt him so. And I think he is concerned that he would upset his girlfriend if he did."
       Monty rubbed his chin. "I got the feeling that if he started getting chummy with her she'd feel like he was just interested in her looks. Actually, I think that maybe Foxy might be a good friend to her. They both grew up with the wrong kinda people and they both switched sides."
       "I don't know, dahling. Foxglove's more innocent than our girl is and right now her only interest is her own security. I'm not sure she could handle Lahwhinie's mood shwings, either. From talking with Gadget on the way back, I know that Chip's been vhere she is emotionally to an extent and tends to shut off his feelings the same way. Perhaps we could talk to Chip and Foxglove both, though," Eva said.
       Monty looked over at Chip again, who was trying to pretend he didn't see them and wasn't doing a good job of it. "We could try that, luv. Who would have thought that parentin' would be so tough?" Eva gave him a gentle hug. "Oh, I remember overhearing mama and papa talking about Bianca and myself. They vhould worry about us constantly, and in my case I suppose it was warranted. I know our little girl doesn't trust anyone right now, but maybe it's enough to have one or two people around that can be an example to her. She'll either open up or she won't."
       "I hope she will, luv. But now, what about the weddin' we've been delayin'? Does it get pushed back again?" Monty asked. Eva's attention moved to Dale and Gadget, who were on the sofa. "I know the youngsters must be eager now to get on with their lives, but all I can think about right now is my poor little Eva. I wish I'd found some way to take her away from them."
       Eva started crying, and Monty led her into the kitchen. "Don't cry, luv. Ya did take her away from them mobsters and ya stopped 'em from takin' away any other little ones from any other parents. We got our daughter back, but we're just gonna have a bit o' a challenge setting her on the straight and narrow. Don't give up hope, luv."

       Chip watched them go, as did Foxy. He'd seen them looking at him and talking. Chip hoped they weren't thinking what he almost certainly knew they were. He was the logical one to talk to Lahwhinie, and it was the last thing he wanted. Chip had little sympathy for the person who had fooled him and left him to burn in that artificial volcano. True, he'd been as surprised as the rest when he'd seen her crying, but on the whole it didn't faze him. Now Monty and Eva came out of the kitchen and he could see they were working up to something.
       Monty called them over. "Chip, Foxy, we gotta a favor to ask ya both, in private." Foxy and Chip followed them into Monty's room, which he now shared with Eva. "Yes Monty, what is it?" Foxy asked.
       "Well, we'd like the two o' you ta spend some time with Lahwhinie. She needs some friends right now and she don't seem interested in family," Monty said. Foxy looked and them both, and then at Chip. "Well, I dunno. What do you think, Chip?" Chip looked away and tried to hide his grimace. "I suppose."
       They all went back into the main room and tried to act like everything was normal. Chip waited a few minutes, and then tapped Foxy on the wing and they went outside. Chip found it hard to even look at the rogue mouse. It was Foxy who broke the ice. "Hi, Lahwhinie! How are you doing today? Liking it here in New York?"
       "Peachy," Lahwhinie said.
       "Don't be so gloomy, you look like you could use some fun! What do you like to do for fun?" Foxy asked. Lahwhinie folded her arms, and took on a sarcastic lien. "Spend money and take advantage of people." Foxy frowned. "Well, we don't do things like that here. Surely there's things that you enjoy that don't involve being mean to people?"
       **What a square.** "All right, let's go downtown then. I'm sure there's something going on," Lahwhinie said. Foxy giggled and hugged Chip. "This is great, you're gonna have such fun with us! And Chip's simply the best." Chip just sighed. "Sounds great."
       Chip took Foxy's wing. "Foxy and I were planning on going to the art museum. You're welcome to come with us." Lahwhinie noted that this was the first time he'd addressed her, and could see how uncomfortable he was. Suddenly, she realized there was another kind of fun to be had. She sidled up near Chip, and her voice softened.
       "Well, thank you for your generous offer, Chip. I'd be glad to come with you!" she said. Lahwhinie deliberately had come between Chip and Foxy, and now waited until Chip offered her his arm which she took. Chip wasn't amused and shot an apologetic glance to Foxy as they headed out.
       "Foxy and I had some special moments at the art museum," Chip said. Foxy came around to Chip's other side and she hugged Chip and giggled. "Yes, very special." Lahwhinie's voice went up an octave. "Oh, you must tell me about everything, Chip. I'm sure someone with your appreciation for the fine arts must have a keen mind for the aesthetic side of life."
       Chip knew her game, and didn't like it. "Foxy and I both have an appreciation for art and literature. Her knack for it helped me to see a fatal error in my thinking." Foxy didn't know what to do about this, but composed herself and forced a smile. "You'll like it there, Lahwhinie. So much beauty. Then later perhaps we could go out to eat."
       Lahwhinie bided her time for a while. She didn't remember Chip being this stolid before, but before he didn't know who she was. Still, she could tell he was very annoyed and Foxy was off-balance and that was enough for the moment. They arrived at the art museum, and Lahwhinie treated Chip like the savant of art, hanging on his every word - and his shoulder.
       "I'm just amazed that one person could know so much! Tell me about the Renaissance artists again, Chip..." Lahwhinie tickled his ear while she asked, and Chip rubbed it. "Sure, but please stop doing that."
       Chip untangled himself from Lahwhinie and attached himself to Foxy, who resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at Lahwhinie. The mouse pursed her lips and again waited. Her patience was rewarded when they left the art museum and went to grab lunch. Chip helped Foxy into her chair, and Lahwhinie stood by hers and waited for Chip as well. When he came and pushed her forward she dropped her napkin. Chip didn't think, but picked it up by reflex and thus ended up with his face next to hers, which was what she wanted. She kissed him on the cheek, while speaking ever so innocently.
       "Oh Chip, you're such a gentleman. Thank you," Lahwhinie said, smiling. Chip glanced at Foxy. She was motionless, but it was obvious that she was livid. Still, she was trying very hard not to make a scene. Chip sat next to Foxy and patted her wing.
       "You're welcome, Lahwhinie," Chip said through his teeth. "But please don't do that again either." Foxy again composed herself and smiled. "So, what kind of things do you like to eat, Lahwhinie?" Lahwhinie's expression was almost sunny at the moment. She knew that she'd gotten to both of them, and that for her was fun. "Oh, I'm not very particular as long as I'm out with a handsome and intelligent guy like Chip. Wouldn't you agree, Foxy?"
       Foxy squirmed uncomfortably in he seat. "Yeah, I guess so." Chip leaned over and gave Foxy a kiss. "I feel the same way about being out with a beautiful woman." Lahwhinie scowled at this, but instantly covered it up. Then she realized that Chip was playing her own game against her. "So Chip, were you surprised to find out that I was Gadget's sister?"
       "Sure I was. It's hard to believe that someone as wonderful, loving and giving as Gadget had you for a sister," Chip said, smiling. Foxy gave Chip an elbow to the ribs. Lahwhinie mirrored his own smile. "Oh, you're just being modest. But what surprised me was that you don't have girls beating down your door. After all, you are one of the cutest chipmunks I've ever seen. I'd have thought your social life would've been a real burden on your duties as leader." Chip knew now it was no-holds-barred. "No offense, Lahwhinie, but look where your tastes in life brought you. Just because your social calendar would be full doesn't mean I'd go around flaunting myself. I'm nothing like you, and hope to remain that way."
       "No offense taken, sweetie," Lahwhinie said, as if he'd complimented her. "But I must admit, you've done very well for yourself. No one would really know how torn you were, would they?"
       "Again you're mistaken," Chip said. "What happened involved our whole group. I was hurt and I blamed my friends at first, but Foxy and the others helped me to realize that I was wrong and that I should be happy for what I have." Lahwhinie smiled then in the strangest manner, and stood up showing that rosy disposition. "Well, mistakes are made from time to time. We'd best be getting back. I'm sure the others must be missing us by now," Lahwhinie said.
       "Yes, that's a good idea," Foxy said.
       "Yeah, I have to agree with you there," Chip said. Chip pulled out Foxy's chair and offered her his arm. Foxy gave Lahwhinie a smug look as she leaned on Chip.

       Lahwhinie actually found a wave of jealousy going through her as she marched along beside them - Chip had taken everything she had and hadn't budged. But now she found that her interest was up, and it was becoming more directed. The first battle was over, but the war was just beginning. When they reached headquarters, the rest of the day passed rather quickly into supper. Lahwhinie went into Gadget's room and began milling around. When she opened a trunk, her eyes stopped on a particular item and she smiled widely, her eyelids dropping to create a look of pure mischief. **I never dreamed my sister would have something that stylish. Now it's time for round two.**
       Monty and Eva had already retired for the evening, as had Cheddarhead and Kate. Gadget walked down the hall, and found she couldn't get in. "Golly, who locked my door?" Gadget knocked lightly, and Lahwhinie announced in a melodious voice that she'd be out in a minute. The mouse inventor proceeded on into the main room, where Dale made a place for her at the couch. Gadget looked at the others with confusion. "Do any of you know what Lahwhinie's doing in my room?"
       "I think she said something about wanting to put on something different than that Hawaiian outfit of hers," Dale said. Then he saw her coming, and everyone noticed Dale's blush.
       "Hi, everyone!" Lahwhinie said, almost singing it.
       Chip turned and instantly wanted to be anywhere than where he was. Gadget blushed a bit like Dale, and the guys did some too, because Lahwhinie was wearing none other than Gadget's infamous red dress, with the matching heels to boot. Dale gave her a derisive look "Just goes to show you that it's content and not packaging that makes all the difference."
       "Dale!" Gadget said, disapproving of his retort. Lahwhinie came over and patted Dale on the cheek. "Oh, now you can't blame him for that, sister. After all, you've got the devotion of a great guy here. You should feel lucky."
       Foxy positioned herself protectively close to Chip. Lahwhinie pretended not to notice and strolled demurely until she was right in front of Chip. "But I must ask myself if Dale's companion feels that way. Tell me Chip, what is it that makes a person likable - the outside, the inside or both?"
       "The saddest thing is, you have to ask," Chip said.
       Lahwhinie turned around, making quite a show of herself. "Well, that's the only way we learn, by asking. Come now, answer the question. Can you honestly look at me and say you don't like me, not even the least bit?"
       Gadget stood up. "Lahwhinie, that's enough. You're harassing him." Lahwhinie gave her an innocent look. "I think my question's valid. Well, Chip?" Chip stood up, growing tired of Lahwhinie's games. "You're beautiful on the outside, but inside your heart's withered and dead. You're a siren that draws a man to his death. I could never like you or anyone like you."
       Lahwhinie's smile shrank a bit, but didn't entirely leave her face. "Thank you, Chip. I expected nothing less than honesty from you." With that, she left and returned to Gadget's room. She'd been impressed in a way at his resistance, but at the same time the game was beginning to weary her. She thought about Dale, but as soon as she considered it she let it drop. Even if she got him away from her sister, he wasn't much of a catch. Chip sat back down and the tension slowly left him.
       "I guess I should apologize to her for that," Chip said. Gadget came over to him. "No, I don't think so Chip. I think that she owes you an apology if anything. She's trying to get a reaction out of you and she was frustrated then when she didn't."
       Dale was confused. "But what's she trying to do by all this except to make us mad at her?" Chip leaned back, putting his arms behind his head. "That's easy enough. She's trying to deny her own pain by causing it in others. She's also young - much younger than Gadget is really, and she's trying to show me up and challenge my authority. I think she wants what she thinks I have - control."
       Now Foxy was confused. "But I thought they were twins. How can she be younger than Gadget?"
       "I mean inside. Outside they look the same but inside she's younger than Tammy is really," Chip said. "I don't think she's ever really grown up, despite how adult she pretends to be. She doesn't know what to do now, and so she's taking it out in the only way she knows how." Gadget looked down the hall toward her room. "Maybe I should go talk to her." Chip on the other hand was looking toward Monty's room. "You can try, but I think maybe a good spanking by her father would get further."
       "Well, I think it's too late for that kind of punishment," Gadget said. **A smack up-side the head might work better.** "I'll see if I can talk some sense into her." Gadget knocked and checked the doorknob when she got there. It was unlocked and Lahwhinie had changed back to her regular Hawaiian garb.

       Lahwhinie had a bemused look on her face. "I must say I was disappointed. That dress looked like it had real possibilities." Gadget blushed again, feeling awkward. "Uh, yeah, it has.. had its uses. Lahwhinie, what was all that about? Why are you flirting with Chip?" Lahwhinie gave her sister a half smile. "Why not, honey? He's adorable. When are you planning on giving him another chance?"
       "Lahwhinie, what are you talking about? Dale and I are engaged!" Gadget said. Lahwhinie looked at the ring on Gadget's finger, and then back at her as if Gadget had said two and two were five. "You mean Dale gave you that sparkler? I thought Chip gave that to you to make up for that fight he told me about. You mean you aren't just paying that red-nosed clown attention to punish Chip? You...you're seriously going to marry the klutz?!"
     Gadget crossed her arms defiantly at Lahwhinie's insinuation and her eyes narrowed. "Dale is not clumsy, or stupid! He just needed someone to love him and believe in him! He's wonderful, and if you had any sense at all you'd be trying to steal him...uh, forget I said that."
       Gadget forced herself to calm down, then redirected her words toward her sister. "We actually thought at the time that having our whole family together for the wedding would be a good thing. I thought that my sister would like having a family, but you're here now and all you're doing is moping and causing trouble. If you want us to help you, just say so!"
       Lahwhinie took on a condescending look, and started playing with a necklace of Gadget's she'd found. "Now sis, if I wanted help I'd have asked. I'm a big girl, and I can handle myself out there in the real world. I think what's really amazing is that you've done as well as you have. You don't wear makeup, you evidently played hard to get with both of those boys, and yet somehow you ended up pretty well. Still, you had a lot more potential - I think you could've controlled Chip quite easily if you'd wanted to."
       Gadget walked over in a huff and took the necklace away from her. "I don't want control over anyone. I'd rather have a friend than anything else. You just have no idea what that word even means, do you? Life's made you so afraid to trust that it's not even in your nature. Sure, you've had guys falling over themselves to be with you, but were those guys ever nice to you because of who you were on the inside? Did they see your inner beauty or did they just see your pretty face and fall in love? The friends I have like me because of who-I-am."
       Gadget saw Lahwhinie's mocking look at her assertion, but ignored it. "Yes, there's been trouble from time to time because of others being influenced by how I look, but time and experience have shown me that love and friendship are deeper than that." Lahwhinie put Gadget's red dress away. "Well, this has been fun. I don't know about you, but it's been an exhilarating day for me, and I'm ready for bed. I'll see you in the morning! Toodles!"

       Lahwhinie left for the spare bed they'd set up for her in the gymnasium. Gadget had offered to let her stay in her room but her twin had refused. Lahwhinie had indeed had a reason for that. As with all things, she'd been biding her time. Now, the entertainment value of being here was wearing off. It was obvious that Chip wasn't going to budge, and the idea of a wedding held no interest for her. **What could Gadget be thinking, marrying that kooky-looking chipmunk?** Lahwhinie shrugged it off as she entered the gym.
       "Ah well. To each her own, I suppose," Lahwhinie said. Monty tapped on the doorway to the gym. "Lahwhinie luv, I brought ya some milk and cookies." Lahwhinie looked up idly at her father. "So father mine, what do you think of your favorite daughter marrying a chipmunk?" Monty patted her head. "I love ya both the same, Lahwhinie. Dale's a fine lad and I couldn't be happier that he's marryin' Gadget. Why do ya ask?"
       Lahwhinie realized he didn't know about the night's altercation yet, and decided not to bring it up. "Oh, just idle curiosity. You never know just how much time in life one will have to get an answer to such questions. Here's another - do you still really love mom, after you've learned what she's done?"
       Monty sat down and set the milk and cookies aside. "Well, I never stopped lovin' her and now that I know she actually had a reason ta leave me, I kin forgive her for that. It's gonna take some time fer us ta feel like being man an' wife again. But yeah, I still love her and learnin' that you and Gadget were me daughters was one o' the happiest days in me life. You comin' here with us made me even happier."
       "If you could have traded your three weeks of happiness for a lifetime of it with someone else, would you have?" Lahwhinie asked.
       "No, I believe that what ya get in life is what yer meant ta get. Besides, I got Eva back in me loife, so there's happiness again in Montyland and better yet, the time we had together created the two most wonderful things ta come into me life," Monty said. Lahwhinie wasn't satisfied. "But if she hadn't returned and you didn't know about Gadget and me, would you still have been satisfied with those three little weeks?"
       Monty nodded. "Yeah. It was magical, even if it was short. I was satisfied as it was. I only found out about Gadget bein' me daughter and Eva bein' still alive a couple of days before we met up with you. That night she told us about there bein' another daughter somewhere in Hawaii and we just knew it had ta be you. So we packed and rushed out the door to find ya and bring ya home."
       Lahwhinie got into bed and sat up. "And despite your knowing who I was, you came. Well, that counts for you I suppose. And I do owe you for showing up when you did. I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm...glad I got to meet you." Monty gently hugged his daughter. "And I'm roight glad I got ta meet ya like this. You were worth it, darlin', despite what happened before. Everyone deserves a second chance, 'specially family. Yer me darlin' little girl and I love ya just as much as I love Gadget, no matter what ya did or what ya do now. I just wish ya could understand just how precious you are to your mom and me…." Monty started gently sobbing.
       Somewhere far, far down inside of the person known as Lahwhinie there was something. It wasn't large enough to properly identify, but it was there nonetheless and it had not been there a moment ago. Lahwhinie sensed it and suppressed it, but it remained still. She allowed Monty to calm himself. "Good night...father," she said flatly. Monty wiped his eyes, "Sorry, luv. I got little too emotional there. Good night, sweet'eart." Monty gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead then tucked her in.



Chapter 9 - A Measure of Peace/Childhood Memories

       Chip knew that Foxy had been working herself into a slow boil all day, and when Lahwhinie had shown up with that red dress the normally kind bat was just as red hot as the dress had been. Chip wisely had gotten Foxy out of there once Lahwhinie had left for Gadget's room and had taken her flying with him. She hadn't said much of anything up to now, so Chip called to the bat flying next to her.
       "Hey, you awake over there? She was just trying to get a reaction from me, you know," Chip said. Foxy let her anger out. "I know, that hussy! Trying to steal my boyfriend with me right in front of her! If she wasn't related to Monty and Gadget I would've given her a piece of my mind! Why doesn't she get her own guy?"
       "Easy, Foxy. She's no threat to you. I don't think she really wants me anyway - she just wants attention and recognition, and that's her way of getting it. I think that her folks'll have a word or two for her in the morning," Chip said. Foxy was fuming, and she looked down at the treehouse as they flew over it with a frown. "I may be a good-natured and lovable bat, but she'd better not get me riled up or so help me...I'll do something that she might not think is very nice."
       Chip considered what Foxy might be thinking of as they landed and he put his hang glider away. Chip went over to her and took hold of her shoulders. "Promise me you won't do anything before tomorrow afternoon. I'm sure Monty'll have a long talk with her once he finds out, and he won't mince words. But if she ignores him and Eva and keeps it up, then maybe it'd just be better if she found a place of her own - family, or no family."

       Chip started to walk for the treehouse, but Foxy put her wings against Chip to stop his progress. "No, I don't want them to send her away...I mean I want her to be happy here and I'll try to be nice to her, even if she won't be nice to me at first." Chip started walking again, putting his left arm around her shoulder as they continued for home. "I want her to be happy too, and I don't think she'll be this way forever. Lahwhinie's apparently had a rough road, but she'll have to learn to behave."
       "I'm sorry I was jealous, Chip," Foxy said. "I know I can trust you, so there's no need for me to fear her." Chip was grateful that she was beginning to realize that. "That's all right. I know you were just scared that platinum doll would look more appealing to me." Chip stopped when they got to the base of the treehouse and faced her, getting a grin on his face. "But just like you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge a person by what's on the outside," Chip said, touching Foxy's nose. "It's what's on the inside that's important."
       Foxy gave him a tight hug and a kiss that he wouldn't soon forget. "That's what I saw in you, cutie, the first moment I heard you." Chip looked over at Foxy as she flew next to him while he climbed up the tree. "Just what would you have done to her, anyway?"
       "I don't know, maybe serve her an untossed salad at dinner or something equally mean," Foxy said. Chip chuckled to himself, glad that Foxy's 'revenge' wouldn't have been as bad as he was thinking. **She really is sweet, but I've got to do something about her family yet.** Foxy waited for him up on the veranda, and together they headed back inside. Chip was glad that Lahwhinie wasn't there, and they'd at least have some peace. The two of them watched a movie together to allow the distasteful feelings to fade and when bedtime came Chip gave Foxy a warm hug and kiss and escorted her to the door of her room.
       "Don't worry, this'll all work out somehow," Chip said. "That or we'll turn her over to Sergeant Friday, and let him wring her out. A day or so with him would handle anyone!" Foxy laughed a little at his joke, her tone reassuring. "I'm okay, cute stuff. I just needed to get all those bad feelings out of my system. Thanks for understanding."
       "Ten-four, Foxy. See you in the morning," Chip replied. Chip headed for his room and came in silently to keep from waking Dale. **Now there's a switch. I can remember all the night's he'd fumble around in the dark trying not to wake me. Of course, neither of us had a girl to consider then.** Chip got into bed, and thought about Foxy, and then Lahwhinie. It was going to take some getting used to, for everyone concerned.

       The next morning found everyone but Lahwhinie - who along with the jetlag was a natural late riser - at breakfast. Once they'd finished, Eva kissed Monty as she left the kitchen and was about to head for the main room when Lahwhinie got her attention. Gadget and the others had told Eva and Monty what had happened last night, so Eva didn't have to guess why Lahwhinie wanted to talk. She readily followed her daughter outside, where Lahwhinie sat down at the end of one of the lawn chairs, and Eva sat on the end of another so she could sit right across from her.
       "Lahwhinie, is something wrong? Breakfast is ready, you know, and you haven't eaten yet," Eva said. Lahwhinie started to say something, then stopped, then started again. "Look, I don't want to wreck things here. After all, you came and got me and all. Eva...mom...I did some things last night that've got the others riled up."
       "Vhat kinds of things, dahling?" Eva said, allowing her daughter to do the talking.
       "Oh, I'd been out with Chip and Foxy yesterday afternoon and played around with him and when Chip didn't respond I took it to the next level. I got Gadget's red dress out and flirted some. I thought I'd get a kick out of making them all angry, but it didn't pay off. I still don't know how Chip resisted it all. Maybe I'm losing my touch," Lahwhinie said, with a tone of genuine confusion.
       Eva leaned forward and for the first time took on the tone of an angry mother. "Lahwhinie, how could you do such things to your new friends? Is that vhy you want to talk to me, you now feel...shame for what you did and you don't know what to do about these awkward feelings?" Lahwhinie shifted some on the lawn chair, her eyes looking everywhere but Eva's face. "I just...I don't know...yeah, maybe. I know sis and her sweetheart want everything to be chummy so things can calm down for their little wedding."
       Eva reached out a bit with her hand. "Don't you want things to go well for them? Can you accept not being the center of attention?" Lahwhinie kept looking away and gave a wry laugh as she rolled her eyes. "Huh. All I had to do before to be the center of attention was wink at whatever guy I wanted to buy me dinner or whatever. I'm not used to being turned down when I turn on the charm like I did with that..." Lahwhinie wrinkled her nose up at the thought, "That little Napoleon who thinks he rules the roost here. But I have no problems with sis getting hitched if she wants. I think it's a mistake, letting any man have so much say like that, though. Good thing I got out of it with that creep Renaldo."

       Eva knew she'd hit a sensitive area, so she moved back to appear nonthreatening. "It's not just men who are bad for marriages, you know. Your father would have every right to call me a 'creep' for leaving him the vhay I did. He has such a warm and loving heart, he forgave me and accepted me with open arms. I gladly share my life with him. Dahling, you have sought happiness in all the wrong places and with all the wrong people."
       "Well, I'm still waiting to meet the right ones," Lahwhinie said defiantly. "I'm not a child, you know. I know there's no gallant knight that's going to come to my rescue and sweep me off my feet. I guess you got lucky with dad, but I've yet to meet the guy who I'd share anything with."
       For anyone else that might have ended the conversation, but Eva knew this girl like herself. She knew what was motivating her. "What has attracted you to any man, besides money, that is?" Lahwhinie looked over at Eva at last, with a disinterested attitude. "Looks, sometimes. There's also power of course. But I always try to make sure they're not too powerful to control. I'll lead them on, but no man's ever gotten the better of me. They're all alike."
       Eva raised an eyebrow at her daughter's cynical attitude. "It did not appear that you vere in control when we found you. Are you so afraid to trust another person? Do you trust us?" Lahwhinie immediately became defensive. "What happened with Renaldo was a...miscalculation! I didn't know the weasel was in heavy with the mob, or I'd never've tried to con him. As for you all…trust is a luxury I've found I can't afford most of the time. But you...I don't mistrust you, but I have to watch my back."
       "Vatch your back? From us? Why do you feel you need to do that? We don't wish to harm you, dahling. We all love you very much," Eva said emphatically. Lahwhinie held out her hand in a stop signal as she replied, then thumbed back at herself. "Hey, it's not just you guys. I have to look out for number one, and once things have settled down here at quiet acres, then I'll stick out like a sore thumb. I'm not used to having anyone care whether I stay or go. I'm trouble, and that means I can't count on this lasting."

       Eva felt so bad for Lahwhinie, but wanted to keep her talking. "But dahling, we don't want you to go. Ve want you to shtay here with us. You don't have to live that way anymore. You can have a home, a real one. A place where you will be loved and protected." Lahwhinie shifted again, and it was obvious to Eva she was wavering. "I dunno. I'm used to fending for myself."
       "I too am used to fending for myself," Eva said. "I've been living that way almost as long as you have been alive. It is no vhay to live. I had a chance at happiness and I threw it away. Please, don't make that same mistake that I made." Lahwhinie turned halfway away from Eva and drew her legs up by her chest. "You said you learned about me from the information you got from R.O.D.E.N.T.S. If you cared about me, why didn't you try to get me out of that hellhole years ago?"
       Eva felt the pain of her words, and shared it. "It was almost a year after you were born that I even learned of your existence and as soon as I was able, I rushed to find you. The information did not say vhere Project Phoenix was, so I had to start from scratch. For years I paid informants, forced answers from local R.O.D.E.N.T.S. members, and searched long and hard. I couldn't stay long in any one place to search for you, because I had people always in pursuit of me.
     "I was on a path that I had believed would only end in my death at the hands of R.O.D.E.N.T.S. I had all but given up hope when I found an agent who knew and he told me vhere to look. But when I got there, you had already gone. The facility had been shut down and there was no trace of you. I did not stop looking, but there vere no more clues. I vhas so thankful when I came here to the Rangers and they without reservation agreed to help me find you."
       Lahwhinie blinked in surprise. "You...you did come? Describe the place where I was, then." Eva couldn't blame her for not believing what she'd said. Still, at least she was willing to consider it. "It was an old stone fortress on an island near Nihoa, that had been surrounded by electrified fences with razor wire at the top." Lahwhinie's reaction showed that Eva's answer was right.

       "You did come..." Lahwhinie whispered. She turned toward Eva, and the hurt was now in her eyes. "You don't know how many times I wished someone would've come and saved me from that place. They treated me horrible. Horrible!" Unexpectedly, Lahwhinie launched herself at her mother. Eva wasn't prepared for the suddenness of it, but now she comforted her daughter.
       "I know they treated you badly. I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I vish I could have found you sooner. But I tried...I tried my best to find you. And at last, I have," Eva said. Lahwhinie cried some, and held on tight to Eva. "Thanks for trying...mama." Eva hugged Lahwhinie tightly and she could no longer hold back the tears she had held inside for so many years. "Forgive me, my baby. I have been such a terrible mother to you both. I don't deserve to have you for my daughter." Lahwhinie looked up from where she'd been crying and managed a wry smile. "I guess you're stuck with me, for now at least. Don't worry about it."
       "After what you and I have endured and overcome, little one, nothing can stand in our way of finally knowing peace and happiness," Eva said. Lahwhinie recovered herself, and sat back down opposite Eva. "I'll stick around, at least until after the wedding. I'm sure Chip won't mind seeing me go."

       Eva had been surprised at Lahwhinie opening up to her, but now she could see that door had closed again just as quickly. "You judge him to harshly, dear. He is a nice boy. If you are willing to change, then there will be no more need for you to fend for yourself," Eva said. Lahwhinie stood up, ready for the talk to end. "Well...I guess I just need to make amends with them all in there. What do I say?"
       Eva stood up with her, and gently brushed Lahwhinie's cheek with her hand. "Say you're sorry and you won't do anything like that again. You don't need to be afraid of them, dear. They don't want to hurt you or control you."
       Lahwhinie had her own thoughts on that. "Well, no time like the present..." Lahwhinie and Eva went inside, and found that everyone else was gathered on the sofa and chairs in the main room. Lahwhinie looked to her mother, who motioned her forward and then Eva came and stood next to her. The young Hawaiian looked like she'd rather be anywhere but in front of those faces.
       Lahwhinie ducked her head down, turning it aside. "Uh, I just wanted to say I'm...sorry...about last night. I won't do it again." Chip suddenly felt déjà vu, as he'd made a similar apology just a few months ago to the others in this very room. "It's okay, Lahwhinie. All is forgiven. We understand that being here's a tough transition for you."
       "Well, if you really mean it, then I forgive you too," Foxy said tentatively.
       Gadget got up and hugged her sister. "Golly, that's so sweet, Lahwhinie! I'm glad to see that there's still good things inside you." Dale got up too, patting her on the shoulder. "First step toward being part of our big, happy family." Zipper nodded from his perch on top of the sofa. "It's all right, no harm done. We're glad you could have humility to admit you were wrong and apologize."
       Monty walked up to Lahwhinie and hugged her too. "Good show, luv. You've come a long way in just a little while. Don't let it stop, we want ya ta keep up the good work." Lahwhinie felt very uncomfortable at all this, and her eyes began looking about for a means of exit. "I...think I'll go get something to eat."

       Lahwhinie headed out quick for the kitchen, leaving the others to wonder at her hasty departure. "Gosh, she seemed sorta scared," Gadget said. Monty saw the look in Gadget's eyes and dismissed it. "I think the lass ain't used ta all that there attention. Probably made 'er feel vulnerable."
       "Let's give her some time," Eva advised.
       They did so, but thirty minutes later she still hadn't come out. Chip stood up, unwilling to wait any longer. "I'm going to go make sure she's okay." Chip gave a reassuring look to Foxy, and walked on in the kitchen. Lahwhinie was sitting at the table in the chair farthest away from the door. She had her head down on her arms, which where crossed on the table.
       Chip tried his best to act like he'd come in for a snack, and opened the fridge. "Hey, Lahwhinie. How's it going?" Lahwhinie didn't move, and her voice was neutral. "Okay, if you like to feel totally humiliated in front of a large group of people you barely know. How's it going with you?" Chip closed the fridge and looked at her. "Look, I know you're not used to doing anything like that, but if it means anything to you I respected you for doing it. Also, I think I owe you an apology too for yesterday. I spoke to you pretty harsh."
       Lahwhinie only moved her eyes to look up at him. "Hey, don't apologize to me. I was trying to get between you and your girlfriend, remember?" Chip broke into a small smile. "Well, you gave it a good shot. I admit I was pretty mad with you, but looking back on it now I realize you were just after attention. I guess you're not used to being the third person, are you?"
       She looked away again, sarcasm entering her voice. "I'm used to all eyes being on me and every man I look at being willing to die to be with me. Yeah, I guess you could call it a small change." Chip was about to laugh at this, thinking she was joking, but the look in her eyes said otherwise. "Well, around here you're just one of the team. You'll get plenty of attention, but maybe not the kind you're used to. I think you'll find life a lot more rewarding, though." Lahwhinie shifted her vision back to him, the sarcasm still evident. "You think my being an 'evil seductress' is going to be a benefit to the group?"
       "No, but if you're willing to help out you could be a benefit. Anyone who's big enough to apologize to us all like that's got potential. The question is, do you want to go on being a flirt or do you want something better for yourself?" Chip asked. He regretted saying that the moment he had, knowing it could anger her.

       Lahwhinie didn't get angry, though. Her gaze didn't leave him and she took on the appearance of a lost puppy. "I haven't decided yet." Chip was surprised at that answer, that she was even considering it. He tried to school his control back in place, but for some reason he only ended up being more uncomfortable.
       "Well uh, okay. I guess that's as good an answer as you can give right now. Um, so are you planning to stay around at least until Gadget's wedding?" Chip asked, trying to change the subject. Lahwhinie pushed herself up from the table and sighed. "Sure, why not? If they don't mind having me underfoot for a while, it'll be a nice change of pace for me."
       Chip suddenly felt like being somewhere else. "Okay, then. Uh, well if you need anything let us know. I've got some things to take care of in...my room. My room." Chip backed out, and headed down the hall. It took him a couple of minutes to recover himself fully. **What was that?** Chip thought it over, and decided it had to be the way her answer had caught him off-balance. That was it. Had to be.

       Lahwhinie stayed pretty quiet over the next few days, getting used to her new surroundings. She'd join in a little, but mainly went out for walks alone or sunbathed in one of her swimsuits on the veranda. Soon enough, the Rangers got used to her being around and decided to just give her some space. With the wedding approaching fast, it was hard to think of anything but the big occasion.
       With one week to go before the ceremony, Dale and Gadget were spending the afternoon in the lair trying to making sure all their ducks were in a row. "Let's see, I got Cheddarhead, Bernard and Zipper as groomsmen and Chip as best man. I think I'm set," Dale said. "Hey Gadget, did you get together your 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue' thing?"
       "Yep. I've got a new blue sash to wear that Bianca wore at her wedding which takes care of two of those," Gadget said. "I've got a brand new sister as a bridesmaid, plus a whole new dress for the occasion. Uh, oh. That leaves out the old thing..." Eva knocked at the open door, announcing herself.
       "I didn't vant to intrude, because I know how much you have to do. I'm glad I did though, with vhat you just said," Eva said, taking an object off her wrist. "Here, dear. This is one of the last connections I have to our roots in Hungary." Gadget took the object - an ornamentally-etched metal bracelet that showed the handiwork of a master craftsman. Gadget held it up to the light and she and Dale both admired the intricate design. "Golly it's gorgeous! Is it very old?"
       "I am not sure of its exact age, but your grandmother gave it to me before I left for R.O.D.E.N.T.S. and I managed to keep it hidden from them. I think it will please the family to see you vearing it. As I recall, she said one of our ancestors made it," Eva said.

       "So here you all are!" Bianca said, coming up the stairs. "Hello Eva, Gadget, Dale. I just vanted to stop by and make sure all was well. Preparations are already underway, and almost every R.A.S. delegate vill be coming, as well as the mayor. I have also heard from many of the people around the world you asked me to contact, and you vill have quite a number of guests at the ceremony and the reception. I have made arrangements to take care of all of them while they are here."
       Gadget hugged Bianca with gratitude. "You're so good to us, Aunt Bianca! Thanks for offering those hotel suites to Cheddarhead and Kate, too. They seemed really pleased with them. How would we ever get along without you?" Bianca smiled back. "Oh, I think you vhould find a way. And how is our ever-so-handsome groom?"
       "All set, I think!" Dale said. "Uh, just how many people will there be looking at us?" Bianca knew that Dale was the nervous type, and took his hand and patted it while she spoke. "Now Dale, don't worry. Everyone there will be someone who is a friend and loves you. The cathedral holds about five hundred, and I should think there vill be that many and possibly a few more."
       "Five hundred?!" Dale exclaimed. "Wow, I didn't know we'd met that many people or had so many that cared about us." Dale took a hold of Gadget's hand. "But if Gadget's gonna be there, that's all I need to know."
       "Of course I'll be there, silly!" Gadget said. "Who did you think you were going to marry, Lahwhinie?" Dale gave a shudder. "I think I'd rather stick with you, if it's all the same. She's getting better, but yesterday I tripped and bumped into her and I thought for a second she was gonna use me as a basketball and slam dunk me in the wastebasket!"
       "Lahwhinie wouldn't do that, Dale," Eva said. "She is still adjusting and just needs time to know how to behave properly around others. Soon, she will feel more comfortable." Bianca gave Dale a small hug. "Besides, who could treat someone as kind and warm as you like that?"

       Dale blushed at the compliment, and the ladies laughed a little over his reaction. Bianca told them she had to leave then, so the girls traded hugs and took turns kissing Dale on the cheek, which made the red-nosed chipmunk even a little redder. Bianca waved goodbye and headed downstairs. When she reached the veranda, she found Lahwhinie sunning outside in her usual place on one of the lawn chairs, wearing a one-piece swimsuit colored in a blue and white mix.
       "Ah, hello," Bianca said. "You must be Lahwhinie. I am your Aunt Bianca. My, but you certainly do have your sister's beauty." Lahwhinie rolled over on her stomach and looked back over to the left at Bianca. "So I've been told. You're the one that's an agent for that R.A.S. group. I got my share of talks about you guys."
       "I can imagine. Lahwhinie, your Uncle Bernard and I vant you to know that if you'd like another place to stay, you are welcome to spend some time with us," Bianca offered. Lahwhinie turned back to her sunning. "This is okay, I guess. At least the price is right."
       Bianca walked over and patted her back. "I hope you like your life here. You have many people that care about you now, and I vhould like to include myself in that group. If you need someone to talk to, you can always call me." Lahwhinie looked back up at her. "Maybe." Bianca let it go at that, and left.
       Inside, the talk had returned to the ceremony. An hour later, the meeting broke up and Dale headed downstairs to find Chip just coming back from a patrol in the RangerWing. "Hey, whatcha doin' Chip, old buddy?" Chip headed for the kitchen. "Just the usual. Only one week of freedom left, and then you'll be hitched good and proper! How does it feel?" Chip asked. Dale grinned at him, and followed. "It feels great! It's just far enough away that I can still not panic about it! I hope Gadget's not as nervous as I am. I feel like she's my compass to guide me now."
       "Somehow, I think that compass part will go both ways," Chip said. "She's smart and all, but she loses perspective real easy when she's obsessing over her work. I think she'll be glad to have you for help in the reminder department."
       "Thanks, Chip. You're right, it'll probably go both ways. I'm sorry all this had to happen. You're my best friend in the whole world and we came within a whisker of ending that friendship," Dale said. Chip shrugged and waved off Dale's concern. "Well, it's behind us now. Don't worry about it."

       Once the plans were underway, Cheddarhead and Kate insisted that Dale should have his lair back to make preparations for after the wedding. As Gadget had noted, Bianca had kindly arranged lodgings for them at the suite of one of her ambassador friends who was currently out of the country. Cheddarhead had puffed up a bit at that news and said it was "about toime" someone recognized his status. Once they had promised to visit each day, said goodbye to everyone and hugged Gadget and Monty, the preparations began in earnest. Chip had also graciously volunteered to help Dale move his things out of the room they'd shared so long. At the moment, they were in the lair and figuring out where to put everything.
       "What about your Iron Goose posters? Do you want to put those up?" Chip asked. Dale rubbed his chin, looking. "Maybe in the breakfast nook, hmmm, maybe in the...well, perhaps we should pack them away for now. I can put up some of Gadget's paintings. Thanks a bunch, Chip, for helping me out. You're a pal."
       "I didn't want anyone else but me helping with this, since - well, you know," Chip said. Dale stared at him curiously. "What?" Chip put down the box he'd hefted. "This is kind of a rite of passage or something. We've been here the longest, and you've been my friend for longer than that so it just seemed right that we'd do this alone."

       Dale began putting more things away on the shelves where his comics had once been, not wanting to face Chip when he asked his next question. "We're still gonna be friends even after Gadget and I get married, right?" Chip was caught off-guard by that one. "Sure, why not?" Dale turned around. "I just wanted to make sure. So much has happened, y'know, and since we're alone here I just wanted to make sure we're still best friends."
       Chip walked over to one of the chairs and sat down on it backwards. "You and I both know that we both love Gadget. I love her, but in a different way. When I met up with Lahwhinie that night she wore Gadget's dress, the way I handled the situation made me realize how much I'd changed. But you two have something that's far more valuable than that ring you got her."
       Dale studied the shelves where his comic books had been. Now they housed several of Gadget's blueprints and paintings they'd both done separately and together since they'd started working in tandem. "Givin' up those comics was a tough choice for me when I did it. I don't miss 'em a bit now, because I know it was all worth it. Chip, I look forward to seeing Gadget's face at breakfast first thing every morning and spending time with her during the day. I can't imagine life without her now, and that scares me some. What if something happens to her?"
       "I'm sure she's wondered the same thing about you. Love's the best thing that can happen in anybody's life, but it does leave you vulnerable that way. It's just part of the risk you accept, and that everyone accepts when the wedding vows are made," Chip said. Dale was so glad Chip was still his friend, but he was concerned for him. "Are you sure you're gonna be up to this at the wedding? I know it's gonna be rough on you."

       Dale motioned Chip over and they moved a small table to make more open space in the middle of the room. Chip hesitated a moment to answer, but knew his own thoughts. "I thought it would be too, but now...can I tell you something, for your ears only?"
       "Sure, what's on your mind?" Dale said.
       "With all that's been going on, it's gotten me thinking more about Foxy and myself," Chip said. "I've decided to go ahead and push forward with looking for her parents. I've got to find out what kind of bat she is first off, but she must be a rare one or we'd have seen one like her before in our travels. Once I know a little more, I'll start checking the likely places to see if I can trace down her family. If I can - or at least find out what happened to them - I'll at least know she'll be happy with an answer. I think then I'll be ready to accept her proposal."
       Dale placed a hand on Chip's arm. "That's great, Chip. It seems like this whole thing's been a turning point for the Rescue Rangers, and we've all grown a bit over this. Every one of us has changed somehow."
       "I think I'm not as afraid of being alone as I once was. I must not be, or I couldn't have seen through Lahwhinie so clearly. But I admit, I won't mind knowing Foxy'll be there for me for the asking. Dale, I know I asked you this once before when I was in a bad mood but do you really feel ready for this? I mean, for...being with Gadget and all?" Chip asked tentatively.

       Dale looked Chip right in his eyes. "Chip, for the first time in my life I can say "I-am-certain! I mean, I've always been able to say it, but this time I can say it and mean it." Chip relaxed some at that. "That's good. I didn't know if you really felt prepared for what comes after the wedding. I mean, it's not like either of us have really experienced married life first-hand...." Chip felt awkward pressing the point, but he wanted to be doubly sure.
       "I guess it's just a change that you haveta get used too. Don't worry, Chip. We've talked about it with our parents and each other. It'll take time to get comfortable with, but I trust her completely. We're both treating this like two good friends who love each other and want to spend their lives together," Dale said.
       Chip let it go at that. "Okay, Dale. I guess you're as ready as anyone could be. Have you two planned out your honeymoon yet, and how long you'll be away?" Dale perked up immediately at that. "We've got a suite at the best hotel in Washington, D.C., and we'll do lots of sightseeing an' going to cool places while we're there. It'll be great fun!"
       Chip went back to helping Dale unpack. "It's going to seem strange not having you two around for a while. It's going to seem even stranger having a room to myself all of a sudden. I guess nothing's permanent." Dale put away his posters. "Well, maybe you can make the top bunk into bookshelves or something. But yeah, it'll be different, sharing the same room with…uh, things being different."

       Chip actually found himself chuckling at Dale's discomfort. "I never thought I'd feel this uncomfortable talking about anything. It's crazy, but when you try to include girls in a conversation it just seems to lead to feeling awkward." Dale breathed out. "Don't I know it! And it's gonna get a lot more awkward for me before it's all over - I just hope I don't faint at the altar or anything."
       Chip grabbed a pillow and a mischievous grin fell on his face. "Aw, is my buddy worried? Well, we'll fix him right up with a pillow fight!" Before Dale could duck, Chip scored a hit on Dale's side with the pillow and then ran for cover - and more pillows.
       Dale struck a dramatic pose. "No one strikes Robin Hood with impunity, scoundrel!" Dale picked up a pillow and threw it at Chip. Chip dodged and retorted, "Sir Robin of Locksley! Methinks I, the Sheriff of Nottingham, will capture this impudent rascal and bring him before the court of Prince John!"
       Chip ran for better cover, carrying a load of pillows. Dale charged at Chip, a pillow in each hand. "Long live King Richard!" Chip threw another pillow and backed his way into Dale's gym. They exhausted their pillow supply, and then drew swords. Chip pointed his sword at Dale tauntingly. "All right, you Saxon cockerel, I will pierce your gizzard and prove to be thy better!" Dale grabbed a fencing outfit off the wall and tossed it to Chip and then donned one of his own. "None can prevail upon me, foolish knave!"
       This fight was the exact opposite of their last one - they both went at it with a will, but they both had fun. At particular moments, one would give the other time to give a polished comment or two, for this was part of their childhood. The battle raged back and forth, with neither giving an inch. With perspiration coming down on both chipmunks' brows, it was only a matter of time before fatigue set in. They locked swords, and the two combatants came nose to nose. "Have ye any last words, Sheriff, before I vanquish you?" Dale challenged.
      Chip got a crafty smile on his face, and when he spoke it sounded just like the Sheriff out of the animated Robin Hood. "Aw, have a heart son. After all, ah'm just doin' mah duty..." Chip's impression caused Dale to stop in utter surprise. He looked at Chip for a moment and then burst out laughing. Dale's hearty laughter was contagious and Chip quickly joined in. They both dropped their swords and moments later they were both on the floor, laughing till their sides ached.

       Chip got up, then helped Dale up once he was able to control himself again. He and Dale picked up their swords and simultaneously whiffed them in the air in an arcing motion, mirroring each other, and laughed some more. "We haven't done that in a long, long time!" Chip said. "I thought it was time to pull something new on you." Dale high-fived his pal. "Boy, you sure did! I never saw that coming! Chip, you missed your calling - you should've been a voice artist!"
       Chip smiled, but as he put up his sword a new question occurred to him. "Dale...do you feel good about your life now as a whole?" Dale's look was one of contentment. "For the first time in my life, I really feel whole. Chip, I never imagined I could be this happy and content. It's pure magic."
       "I'm glad for that. Thanks for sticking with me, Dale," Chip said, walking toward the passageway. "Come on, we can finish that up later. The girls are bound to be wondering about us by now." Dale was only too glad to take a breather. "Yeah, they sure are swell."
       Gadget had searched her room from top to bottom, looking for something of Laura's she could wear to the wedding. She didn't have many of her things but there had to be something right for a wedding. Eventually, under her bed, she found a small dusty old box. She opened it and gasped.
       "I forgot all about this, mom's jewelry box!" Gadget began rummaging through its contents, a mixture of real and costume jewelry. In a tiny white box she found a pair of beautiful sapphire earrings. She held them up and they glinted in the light, as if awakening from a long slumber. "Golly, a little buffing and polishing and these'll be perfect for the wedding."
       Gadget rushed to her workshop and began very carefully buffing them on her polishing wheel. The noise attracted Eva's attention as she walked by. She'd been looking for a chance to talk to Gadget again one-on-one and now seemed to be a good time. Eva knocked lightly and poked her head in. "Mind if I come in, Gadget?"
       "Golly, sure mom!" Gadget said. Gadget's hands slipped at the moment she called Eva "mom", and Eva walked over quickly, stooping down to pick up the earring that had fallen to the floor. "It is beautiful, definitely an antique," Eva said, admiring the earring for a moment before she gave it back. "I didn't know you vore earrings, dahling."
       "I haven't worn earrings since I was a child," Gadget said, continuing to clean them. "But I want something from...mom, with me at the wedding. In all this excitement, I almost forgot about them. I hope you don't mind." Eva watched as Gadget started in on buffing the other earring. "I certainly understand, dear. Right now, I am your mother more in name than anything. I never got to meet Laura, but she must have been a special person. I owe both the Hackwrenches more than I can say for what they did for you. I just vish that one or both of them could be at the wedding too, along with the Râbogas."
       "They'll be there, in my heart. I know they would be happy for me, knowing that I'll never be alone again now that I have all new family," Gadget said. Eva hugged her and they shared a solemn moment. Then she helped Gadget to try on the earrings. "They are most becoming. You have the Râboga grace to your appearance, dahling."

       Eva took a step back. "Gadget, what vhould you think if I decided to stay here with your father?" Gadget brightened up. "That would be great! Do you think the two of you could patch things up that well?" Eva came back closer and took Gadget's hands, now in a sharing mood. "We've had some time to talk, and we've both agreed to give it a try. I'm tired of not having a home, and I don't think I could have gone very much longer the way I was. It vhas a necessity, but now I can afford to settle in somewhere. I have missed much of my life, and I would be happy if I could get to share some of yours with you."
       Gadget hugged her mother, grateful that this time she was staying. "There's always going to be room for you." Eva hugged her daughter tightly, giving a silent prayer of thanks that she could. "Oh, my precious..." Eva whispered. Eva cried some, and Gadget did too. It was the first time they'd cried together in this way, and both of them felt a bonding from it. Eva dried her eyes and smiled. "Vould you like to show those earrings off to Dale? I bet he will flip over them."
       "That's a great idea! He's never seen me in earrings before," Gadget said, hurrying out of the room. Eva smiled at her youthful enthusiasm and walked out as well. Eva knew now more than ever she'd made the right decision. **It will take time to adjust to this life, but it is much better than no life at all. Very much better.**
       Dale was in Gadget's workshop, sitting at his easel. He'd come in looking for her, but then remembered a project he'd long neglected. Now he was painting, with a large magnifying glass snugly clamped on his nose - another invention of Gadget's. He concentrated on his efforts, but stopped when he heard someone coming. Through the lens, Gadget looked like a fun-house image.
       "Hey Gadget, that's you isn't it? I have a surprise for you!" Dale said. Gadget walked in. "So do I…" Gadget walked slowly toward Dale, a sultry look on her face. "Notice anything different, Dale?" Dale looked at her as best he could, and thought hard and fast. "Uh, your jumpsuit's cleaner than it was. I don't see a speck of lint on it…" Gadget rubbed her cheek against his until her ear was directly in front of his face and Dale started to faze out under the attention.
       "When you do that, I see the weirdest things. I even see an earring on your ear!" Gadget chuckled, turning to face Dale. "I am wearing earrings! They were my mother's - that is, they were Laura's. I'm going to wear them for the wedding. Do they look nice on me? Be honest now." Dale smiled up at her, in a more than half-blissful state. "Stunning...they match your eyes...your giant blue eyes…" Gadget blushed, putting her arms around him. " Golly, thanks Dale," she said. "So, what are you painting?"
       "Painting...what painting..."
       Gadget lifted the magnifying glass off his nose and pointed to the painting on the easel in front of him. "That painting, silly!" Dale snapped out of the dreamlike state he'd been in and was instantly glad that Gadget had asked. "Well, I realized how wrong I'd been to make myself into something I wasn't in my paintings so I'm retouching 'em. Whatta ya think?" Dale magnified the face of Supermunk on his canvas and it was now clearly Dale's own face.
       Gadget turned Dale's face to hers and kissed him. "I'm glad you finally like yourself as much as I do." Dale had a look of pure bliss. "I don't think I could do quite that good..." Dale fell off the stool he'd been sitting on, then looked up at Gadget. He put his hands together to form a frame, and put Gadget squarely in the center of it. "Now that's what I call a masterpiece!"

       Gadget helped him to his feet. "I saw Chip's been helping you move your stuff. We need to get new furniture up there since we'll both be living...together..uh." Gadget blushed, and she looked to Dale, who was blushing as well.
       "Well, feel free to make any changes you want when it comes to furniture. I know it's pretty awkward to talk about, 'cause I've been jangling nervous every time I've thought about it," Dale said. Gadget nodded. "Me too. I guess getting married requires more closeness than we're used to. We'll need to move my stuff up there as well, then put everything away and get it all looking nice."
       "Yeah, kinda like the treehouse in Swiss Family Robinson! Even better really, since we don't have pirates and tigers and all to deal with," Dale said. Gadget smiled at his imaginative enthusiasm. "No. Well, unless the Pi-Rats pay us a visit. Dale, I don't want you to worry about all this. Neither do I, for that matter." Dale took her hands, admiring again the ring he'd given her. "I'm not worried, really. Like you said early on, we'll respect each other's privacy. I'm relieved it all turned out okay, after that scary discovery I made and the tough times it led to. What about you? Are you scared any now, Gadget? I mean, of all of this?"
       "Sure," Gadget said. "Obviously I've never done anything like getting married before, so it's only natural to be a little scared." Dale heaved a sigh of relief. "Whew. I'm glad it's not just me. I feel like I did in high school when I had to stand up in front of the whole school and recite the Gettysburg Address. I sweated so much my Lincoln beard fell off halfway through!"
       Gadget giggled, picturing the scene in her mind. "Dale, no matter what, you can always make me smile." Dale held out his hand to her and as she took it he guided her into a tight hug. " I'm so glad I've got you to go through all this with me. You're like the part of me that gives me strength. I don't know what I'd ever do without you." Gadget leaned back slightly from the hug and took his face in her hands. "You'd be the chipmunk with the biggest comic book collection in the entire world."
       "And the emptiest heart," Dale added. Gadget looked into his eyes, and played with his head fur. "I'd be the same way, alone with my inventions and no family." Dale looked around the workshop, and knew what she was saying was true. "I'm just glad it turned out this way. I'd have never forgiven myself if what we found out ended up hurting you for the rest of your life."

       Eva poked her head in the door tentatively. "Everything okay here, dahlings?" Gadget and Dale separated and Gadget waved her mom in. "Hi, mom! Dale and I were just having fun. Don't worry, Dale's a total gentleman."
       "I'm sure he is. You two need to finish up in a few minutes. Monty's almost got supper on the table," Eva said. "Did you like her earrings, Dale?" Dale smiled and nodded. "How could I not? They're attached to the best girl in the world. We're coming, Mrs. Erskine!" Dale said.
       "Oh, Eva please. No need to stand on ceremony, dahling," Eva said. Dale looked back at Gadget. "Okay, Eva. We'll be there in a minute." Dale waited until she closed the door, then spoke to Gadget again. "She sure is nice. Y'know, the way she talked about supper, it kinda makes it feel more homey-like around here. I hope she stays around."
       Gadget and Dale talked a few minutes longer, then their conversation was cut short by the sound of Monty's voice wafting through the treehouse, calling everyone to dinner. They came in, hand-in-hand, and after an enjoyable meal they stayed downstairs and discussed wedding plans with Monty and Eva. Dale noticed that Chip was talking off to one side with Foxy and they both seemed self-absorbed with the book they were reading. **Maybe Chip's wrong - they seem okay enough.** The thought only lingered a moment as Gadget got his attention back and he rejoined his conversation.
       Meanwhile, Chip was trying to tactfully break the ice with Foxglove. "Foxy, do you ever wonder what it would have been like to live in the Victorian era? No technology, no rushing around. Every problem was simpler," Chip said. Foxy looked up from the book admiringly at Chip. "Well, I'd imagine they were forced to be more creative in the wrongdoing because they had so few tools. But you'd still have been able to beat any of them, cutie," Foxy said, nuzzling him. Chip closed the book and put it safely aside. "I wonder if that speaks for my intelligence or the criminals' lack of it. In any case, it's a big contrast. What time period would you have lived in if you could have chosen one?"
       Foxy shrugged, "I don't know if any time is better than any other. I'm just happy to be here now, with good friends." Chip looked over pensively at the foursome on the other side of the room as Lahwhinie came in from the kitchen and joined Dale, Gadget and her parents. Now they were engrossed in their talk and the giggling and laughing starting to rise. Chip grabbed Foxy's wing and escorted her outside.
       "I think that life in many ways is a cycle of balance. Look at Dale - he's had such a tough time, but now he's happy. The same with Gadget and Eva, and even Lahwhinie some. I'm sure your time's about to come, because you're due for some happiness," Chip said.
       "Chip, I am happy here," Foxy said. "Happier than I've ever been in my entire life. Aren't you happy?" Chip looked toward the moon and sighed. "I'm more than grateful that you've stuck by me, and I consider you much more than a friend now. But there's more to happiness than that, I'm learning."
       Foxy knew this time was coming for him, even as it was for her. "Is it something I can help you with, Chip? Or is it something that you must discover on... your own?" Chip looked over at her, and took a few moments to find the words. "You've done more than your share, Foxglove - more than I or anyone else could have asked. I'm not sad for myself anymore, but I'm not quite at the happiness point." Foxy fought back some tears. "Chip, I just hope that it turns out that I'm an answer to your unhappiness." Chip pulled her to him. "If you're the answer, then I'll know it soon enough. I don't think I'll find a cuter one."
       Foxy hugged him tightly, but could feel that something wasn't right. "What is it, Chip?" Chip never ceased being amazed at her ability to read him. "Foxy, I'm not being fair to you. I do love you, and I know you want to marry me, but I don't feel right about it unless I know you're happy too."
       "Chip, I am! You don't have to worry about me," Foxy replied.
       "But I do," Chip said, emotion creeping into his voice. "You've given up on any idea of finding your family or any kind of happiness besides me." Foxy looked up at him in a mixture of frustration and curiosity. "What's wrong with that?"
       "Foxy, I want you to be complete on the inside before we go any further. I've seen how much Gadget's been helped by having her family around. I wouldn't be happy knowing that you're giving up all your dreams just to be with me," Chip said. Foxy took on a look of panic. "You're not…you're not saying no, are you?" Chip shook his head. "I'm just saying let's find out about your family. I know that dream's still in you somewhere."
       Foxy pulled away from him and paced for a little then walked back up to Chip. "But what if we find out they're all dead? I don't know if I can handle that. I just want to be happy!" Chip took her wings in his hands. "Foxy, I want you to be happy but denying yourself the chance to find your family just because the news might be bad's not the way to go! I'll be there with you all the way." Foxy clung to Chip, not wanting to let go. "Maybe. I'll…I'll think about it."



Chapter 10 - Happy Reunions and the Night Before

       Chip found that the time went like water down a stream. Before anyone knew it, it was the day before the wedding. The morning was largely spent on welcoming guests who had come from all over the planet for this occasion. There were old friends of the Rangers, friends of their immediate families, and many general well-wishers. One guest hesitated to come in, but she tipped in lightly feeling out of place. Her eyes brightened when she saw Dale with a beautiful female mouse and knew that had to be the one. She walked up warily, eventually getting into the receiving line. When it was her turn, both Dale and Gadget racked their brains to remember where either of them had seen this chipmunk before.
       "Hi, Dale. Congratulations! I didn't think you'd recognize me with this short hair and all, plus I've grown up a lot since the last time you saw me. I'm Melanie!" the girl said. Dale just stared at first, then realization kicked in. "Melanie!" Dale rushed up to his sister and hugged her then dragged her over to Gadget. "Gadget, meet by big sister Melanie. Mel, meet my wife-to-be, Gadget!" The chipmunk held out her arm to Gadget and they shook hands. Melanie was crowned with red hair, cut at the shoulders, and she was also wearing a business suit. Her teeth were together and her voice was a little higher than Dale's and she didn't have the inflections that his voice did, but she did have his enthusiasm and smile. "Oh, hello there, Gadget. Good to meet you!"
       "Golly, it's a pleasure to meet you, Melanie," Gadget said. "I haven't heard much about you, so hopefully we'll get to know each other while you're here." Melanie waited while Gadget and Dale finished greeting the others. She got introduced to Chirp Sing, Midge, Don Quijolé, and the ambassadors of ten different countries. Dale managed to get in some quick chipmunk chatter in-between and then Dale and Gadget turned their full attention to Melanie.

       Dale was all questions. "So Mel,whathaveyoubeenuptowhat'sgoingoninyourlifedidyoumeet anyoneareyoumarriedanykidswhydontyouvisitmoretellmeeverything,sis!" Melanie put a hand over Dale's mouth, as she'd done so many times when she'd been at home with him.
       "Wow, you're still a mile-a-minute talker, aren't you? Well, I left home because I wanted to see the world and a guy named Irving promised me I would. That didn't work out, and then I was alone in the middle of Florida and had no way to come home. I started working as a secretary - you remember all those days I used to play at being your secretary? Well, I began working for this big industrial outfit in Ocala. I worked hard and got promotions, and now I'm their public relations coordinator. I meant to come back long ago, but something always seemed to get in the way. The latest thing was I got married recently to a great guy. Oh, Lawrence!"
       Gadget and Dale looked on as a professional-looking chipmunk came over. Melanie grabbed her husband's arm and pulled him up next to her. "Lawrence is in my department, and we're talking about forming our own PR consulting firm!" Lawrence adjusted his spectacles. He was carrying a briefcase, and looked like what he was - the classic workaholic. "Ah, nice to meet you both. I'm Lawrence Talbot."
       Dale took Lawrence's hand and shook it vigorously, jouncing his spectacles around. "It's swell to meet you too, Lawrence! Treat my big sister good." Lawrence adjusted his spectacles again, and gave Dale a good looking-over. "So you're the legend, eh? I've heard of the Rescue Rangers of course, but somehow I thought your organization was bigger than this. You know, you really could use some good proactive PR. Nothing flashy, just some good regional coverage."
       "Well, we're doing pretty good. Everyone knows where to find us when they need us. Lawrence, this is my wife...soon to be wife, Gadget." Lawrence shook Gadget's hand. "A very large pleasure, miss. If you're half the wonder I've read about, then Dale's a fortunate fellow indeed."
       Gadget smiled and took the compliment in stride. "Golly, thanks, Lawrence." Dale's attention shifted to his sister. "Mel, have you talked to mom and dad yet? They'll be thrilled that you're here." Melanie cringed. "I don't want to do anything that'll mess up the day, brother. I just wanted to see you and your pretty bride and let you see Lawrence. I've kept up with you by reading your local newspapers. I'm so proud of you!" Melanie hugged Dale with vigor, and Dale hugged his sister back. But her attitude about their parents concerned him. "What's wrong, Mel? Why don't you want to talk to mom and dad?"

       "Dale, I ran out on them," Melanie said, ducking her head a little. "We had a big blow-up at the time and they said as much as they didn't want to see me again. I think that's the main thing that's kept me from coming back. I hoped that maybe things would have blown over, but every time I'd remember all the arguments we had. Do they ever talk about me?"
       "Sure they do! They miss you very much, and I'm sure you miss them very much. Please, just talk to them," Dale said making puppy dog eyes at her. "Pleeeese?"
       "Melanie? Is it you?"
       Melanie turned around and Anne and Duncan had both just come in the door. She managed a smile, suddenly feeling very vulnerable. "Hi. I..hope you don't mind my being here." Anne broke into a joyous smile. "Honey, it is her!" Anne ran the distance between them and hugged her girl. "Oh, Melanie! I'm so glad you're here!" Duncan came forward too and joined in the hug. "I'm sorry we stopped talking, Mel. I shouldn't have let it happen, but you were always welcome to come back no matter how it may have sounded at the time."
       "I hoped you'd say something like that..." Melanie said, enjoying the hug. The hugging and talking continued non-stop for several minutes as Melanie introduced her parents to Lawrence and told them about her life and how she'd changed.
       Duncan looked on his daughter with satisfaction. "And here I thought we were coming to welcome a new daughter-in-law into the family. It seems we're also welcoming a son-in-law in. I guess our cup's running over today!" Dale walked over and patted his father on the back. "Great, I was hoping everyone would be happy today!" Melanie freed a hand and took Dale's. "Looks like you got your wish, then. And I didn't do so bad myself."
       Monty hadn't said anything during this, mainly because he was preoccupied with some of the ambassadors. He and Eva were discussing people and places they knew in common and the talk was wild and lively. Then someone else joined in the party.
       "Monty Jack! You left the bush, and live in a tree!"
       **I know that voice.** Monty spun around, and saw a mouse dressed in traditional African garb and flashing an unforgettable toothy grin. "Gabarah?! Gabarah, old mate!" Monty rushed up to him and gave him a big hug. "I can't believe ya came all the way from Africa just fer this! Great ta see ya again, ol' friend!"
       Gabarah hugged his old friend back and smiled broadly. "For that honor, you can blame the friend we both have now!" Gabarah pointed to the door, and Bianca waved to them. "She learned from Eva that Gabarah was old friend to her and Monty Jack, and Bianca she thinks it would be nice surprise for me to be here! I am now head of the largest safari outfit in Nairobi, and I get very long distance telephone call in my office. I hear Monty Jack and Eva get back together and his girl getting married. Do I want to come? Of course I do, so Bianca arranges it all and here I am!"
       Monty was pleased as punch. "Well, I couldn't be much happier than I was, but now I am. Thanks fer showin' up, mate. It makes my day!" Gabarah stepped over to Eva and kissed her hand. "And my most best wishes to you, miss Evelyn…oh, miss Eva. I keep forgetting."
       "That's quite all right, dear. I see your English has improved with time. It is vunderful to have you here, for more reasons than one," Eva said. Then Gadget came over, and Monty introduced her to Gabarah. The African mouse greeted her by gently placing his hands on the bottom of her elbows and indicating she should grab on to the top of his. "I greet you in the fashion of my people, blessed child. I call for you much happiness, many children, and days full of life." Gabarah kissed her on both cheeks and then gave her his toothy grin.
       Gadget blushed at his attention. "Thanks for being here. It really means a lot to us to have you here, Mr. Gabarah." Dale left his sister and walked over to join the conversation. "Yeah, it sure is swell that everyone showed up for the shindig. This is gonna be great!" Gabarah then took Dale's arms the way he had taken Gadget's. "Yes, and my gift to you is the kindness that so many of these have shown to me before. No gift is greater or more precious."
       Then he let go of Dale's left arm and took Gadget's left hand and placed it in Dale's right hand. "In Nairobi, we have a saying - when two become one, their greatest wish is granted. So it will be with you, Gadget and Dale." Gabarah again smiled and left to speak to Bianca, while Dale and Gadget looked awkwardly at each other.
       "What's you greatest wish, Dale?" Gadget asked.
       "I'm looking at her," Dale replied. Gadget blushed again, "Golly, Dale." Monty watched as Gabarah went off to speak with Bianca. "Crikey, I'd forgotten how mysterious-loike he could get at times. Still, he's a great pally."
       Off in another section of the crowd, Chip and Foxy were talking to Chip's parents. They'd not had any opportunity to talk with Foxglove before and conversation was running mainly to Chip's childhood. Foxy laughed as they recounted all the foibles he'd gotten into. Chip looked for anything to change the topic with. "Uh, that's swell, mom and dad, but we've got to..." Then he realized a certain chipmunk had her eyes on him, and he got his way out - though it was far from the way he wanted. "Oh look! It's Melanie Oakmont, bye!"
       Chip had tried to hide behind Foxy, but Melanie had seen him. "Ooh, it's my hunk of a munk! What are you hiding for, you rascal?" Melanie came right over and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Did you think I'd come here and not greet the guy who used to play all those games with my brother and me?" Melanie gave him a playful look. "Chippy-wippy, I thought you'd have been one of the first to welcome me back!"
       Chip looked around for a window he could leap out of, while Dale cringed when he heard Mel using the old nickname she used to call Chip. He turned and saw Chip trying to hide his discomfort in front of Foxy, so Dale walked over and interceded on his friend's behalf. "Mel! So, when are you and your husband going to make mom and dad grandparents?"
       "Oh, you sly little brother! You know there's no rushing those things. Do you think that you and that gorgeous little bride of yours will be adopting?" Melanie asked. Dale had to admit, she was a good conversationalist - she'd thrown his decoy back at him. "Well, that's probably what we'll do, or maybe someday we'll slip the stork a fifty and see if he can make an exception."
       Melanie laughed in that high-pitched way that always made people around her a little nervous. "Oh, you always had a joke for the occasion, brother dear! Oh Chip, I know you're wondering about me, but you're too late! See that tall and handsome chipmunk over there? That's Lawrence, my husband. You could've been the one, you know, but you just didn't try hard enough."
       Chip did his best to hide his relief. "Well, he's a very lucky guy, Mel." Foxy could see that Melanie's teasing had hit Chip in a sore spot, so she wrapped her wings tightly around him. "He's done okay for himself, too. Hi, I'm Foxglove."
       "Oh, hi! Are you Chip's wife?" Melanie asked innocently. Chip and Foxy both blushed, and she took her wings off Chip. **Maybe one day** "Uh, no, I'm his girlfriend," Foxy said. Melanie elbowed Chip. "You got yourself a cute one there, Chip. Well, see you later!"

       Melanie bounded off and Chip managed to wait until she was out of hearing range before letting his breath out. It couldn't get worse, could it? He almost didn't dare look about as Bianca came up to him, escorting a guest. "Oh, hello there Chip! Did you get to meet this vunderful mister Gabarah yet, the old friend of Monty's? He has such a dazzling personality!"
       Chip extended his hand to the African tribe mouse. "Hello Gabarah, I'm Chip Maplewood." Gabarah studied Chip a moment. "Ah, the adventurous one! Yes, I know you very well now, mister Chip! When miss Bianca arranges for my passage, she called up another old friend of Monty Jack's who lives in Kenya too. She tells about you and Dale all the way here on the plane. She comes any time now, I think." Chip couldn't imagine who this could be. "Who is that? I can't think of anyone I know in Africa…"
       "Mon Guilleret!" a voice called out in a French accent. Foxy could hear Chip's heart rate suddenly increase, as he turned quickly. "Agnes!" Agnes Oakmont stood at the door, as vibrant and as lovely as he'd remembered from his childhood. Agnes had been Chip's first real crush, and he never quite got over it. Monty's head turned too at the mention of the name, as she gracefully walked into the room and kissed Chip on both cheeks in front of everyone, European style.
       "Oh, I am so glad to see you again, Guilleret. You have become quite even more the handsome chipmunk than I remember, n'est ce pas?" Agnes asked. Chip was blushing beet red. "And...and you look very well, too...Agnes..."

       "Aunt Agnes!" Dale shouted from across the room. Dale rushed up, and shook her hand. "I didn't think you'd be able to come! Zowie, you look great!" Agnes gave Dale the same treatment she'd given Chip. "My little nez cerise! I am so happy for you. Quick, which one is she?" Gadget walked over and introduced herself. "Golly, hello Agnes. I'm Gadget." Agnes looked at her admiringly. "You are the vision precieux, my dear! To think, my little nephew is marrying someone so beautiful."
       Gadget smiled, as did Dale. "I'm glad you approve, Agnes," Gadget said. "Everyone in Dale's family has been so nice to me! I was worried at first thinking they might not like him marrying a mouse. I was surprised to hear that I wouldn't be the first mouse in the Oakmont family. Is your husband going to be here?"
       "Percy? He is not at the door yet? Un moment," Agnes said. She went outside, and after a minute she returned with a young mouse boy and her husband. "Richard got away from Percy and was chasing some birds in the park." Percival Montgomery was a British mouse and a painter of high caliber. He was dressed in a finely-tailored suit and had an air of respectability that everyone could sense. "It is a great honor to congratulate you both on this momentous occasion. Say hello to them, lad."
       "Hello, happy marriage!" Richard said.
       "Uncle Percy! Cousin Rick!" Dale rushed over to them and hugged them. "Hey, is cousin Edgar coming?" Percy shook his head. "No, Edgar's with the special forces division back home, don't you know. He's gone into the medical service, and right now the lad's on assignment in Chechnya helping with the backlog of patients over there. Skilled lad with his hands - he could have been a first-class painter if he'd stuck with it."
       "Just wait till I show you my stuff! I must have inherited my painting talent from you! Meet my wi...oh, what the heck, meet Gadget!" Percy kissed Gadget's hand in the British fashion of homage. "You would be enough inspiration for any painter, my dear. Renoir would tremble in your presence." Richard look up at Gadget, who was nearly overcome with all the compliments she was getting. "Wow, you're even more beautiful in real life! Uncle Dale, you are the luckiest guy in the world!"
       "Gosh, thank you...thank you both," Gadget said. "I didn't realize that so many people knew about me..er us." Dale hugged Gadget in the warmth of the moment. "Don't I know it, Rick!"
       "The entire world pays you all homage," Percy said and Agnes immediately agreed. "C'est vrai! There is hardly a place I can go that I have not heard of the Rescue Rangers and some brave act that they have performed there. I am sure there will be many more coming to the church than came here."

       Then Agnes saw Monty with Eva. "Pardon, mes petits. I have an old friend to greet." Monty was talking with Eva, but knew the reckoning with Agnes was coming soon. "This is great, Eva luv. Tomorrow's gonna be the happiest day o' me life. I'm glad you could be here for it." Eva had to agree there. "And I am the fortunate one being here for it, dahling." Agnes could see the situation written on Monty's face as she neared him, so she did not kiss him when she got there.
       "It is good to see you again, Monzy. I have brought my husband Percival and our boy Richard to wish you and your family bon chance," Agnes said. Monty turned in practiced surprise. "Agnes, luv...uh, Agnes! Percy!" Monty grabbed her and Percival and gave them a big hug. "Hitched are ya? That's great!"
       "Yes, old bean, for quite a while now," Percival said, shifting his attention. "And you must be Eva - no mistaking that after Bianca's talk with us. Monty here always was the lucky one..." Percival kissed Eva's hand then patted his old friend on the back. Eva found herself liking Percival at once. "You are most kind, Percival. I had no idea that Monty had so many friends. Vhere did he meet you?"
       "During the war. Agnes, Monty and I were operatives with the R.A.S.C.A.L.S. It was a jolly time despite the rough lout we were in. I thought for a while that Aggie here would have chosen Monty for her soulmate, but something held him back. I can see now what that was, and I don't blame him at all," Percival said. Eva and Agnes exchanged apologetic, awkward glances.

       Monty knew the situation could get bad, so he decided to try diverting the conversation. "Well yeah, I had a reason. I got me two daughters out of it to! Gadget's me daughter, and Lahwhinie over there is too!" Agnes knew that Monty was being gentlemanly about it, so she decided in a bold move to approach Eva. "I am so glad that your decision came out so well...Eva, Monzy and I were...very close for a while. He was alone, and suffering. But I knew in his inner heart there was something that could not be moved. The love he had for you never died, and I think the happiness here is as good a proof of that as anything."
       "Thank you, Agnes. I'm sorry for having caused you and Monty such heartache. I'm glad that you have found your happiness with Percival," Eva said. Agnes smiled faintly and reached out, patting Eva's hand. Eva took it firmly then, and shook it gently. Monty gave a silent prayer of thanks on the inside.
       "Well, I'm roight glad you two got ta meet," Monty said. "A bloke hasn't the right to know two such great gals as you, but I guess ol' Monterey Jack's lived a better life than most. Right, Percy?"
       "I think that's the only way to explain how we got through that ammunition dump without it going off on us," Percival said, grinning at the memory. "Congratulations again, Monty. Eva, I hope that you never have to part from your love again." Monty put an arm around Eva's waist.. "Nope, not this toime, mate. This time it's fer good."

       Eva leaned on Monty as the foursome continued to talk. She hadn't said all that much about their newfound relationship, but what Monty had just said pleased her more than she thought it would. Monty's mention of Lahwhinie had her look over in that direction, where Gabarah had found her.
       "Ah, miss Lahwhinie. You have the gentle appearance of your sister, but the look of the lioness in your eyes!" Gabarah said. Even Lahwhinie found herself feeling comfortable around him. "I use that to keep the guys in their place." Gabarah laughed openly as Chip and Foxy came over. Gabarah put Lahwhinie's hand in Chip's, who already had taken hold of Foxy's wing on the other side. "Yes, it is so. May you all have your wish." Gabarah laughed gently as if hearing a private joke and walked away. Lahwhinie immediately pulled her hand away from Chip.
       "What is with that kook?" Lahwhinie asked. Chip watched him roam about the room. "He's eccentric, all right. What did he mean about a wish?" Foxy hugged Chip. "Well, I can think of several I'd like, but there's one I want more than anything."

       Throughout the treehouse, such conversations continued until the evening, then everyone wished the bride and groom well and retired to their lodgings that Bianca had arranged. The last two to leave were Melanie and Lawrence.
       "It's been swell meeting you all, and especially you Gadget," Melanie said. "I just know Dale's going to be happy with you!" She looked over her shoulder at a certain chipmunk as Lawrence led her out. "Goodbye, Chippy…uh, Chip! See you tomorrow and save a dance for me!" Dale smiled large as the door closed. "Wow! Do I have a great family or what? This is gonna be the best wedding ever, and I'm gonna marry the greatest girl ever!" Monty and Gadget turned back to look at Chip.
       "Chippy?" Monty asked. Chip took off his fedora and rubbed his head. "Yeah, it seemed everyone had a different nickname for me when I was a kid. That's why I'd get so testy at Tammy for calling me Chipper." Gadget patted him on the shoulder. "Aw, don't get mad Chip. She obviously really likes you, and so does Agnes for that matter. Chip, what does Guilleret mean?"
       Chip gave a laugh. "It's french for Chipper." Gadget smiled a little wider. "Well, I wouldn't let it worry you. They might have been teasing you when you were a kid, but both of them were very admiring of you. I think you impressed them both." Chip thought on her words, then gave a nod. "Yeah, I've certainly changed over the years, for the better I hope. So, are you and Dale nervous, this being your last night of singlehood?" Chip asked.

       Gadget winked at Dale. "I haven't really felt single for a while now. As for being nervous - well, a little. But I think it's more about the unknown and the future than it is the wedding. It's a big change, and I'm excited and nervous at the same time."
       "That sounds familiar," Eva said. "I vhas the same way when I married your father. I think I was more nervous though when he pulled me out of the way of a charging bull elephant. It would have been a photo finish." Monty put his arm around Eva's and Gadget's shoulders. "Our little girl's all grown up an' I couldn't be happier." Monty burst into tears.
       "Hey! I'm still here, remember?" Lahwhinie said. Monty quickly hugged Lahwhinie and then swept her off her feet and he cradled her in his arms. "I couldn't forget about you, luv! You two are me twin darlin' angels." Then Monty gave Lahwhinie a gentle kiss on the forehead before she squirmed in embarrassment and Monty let her down. Lahwhinie brushed herself off, feeling the spotlight. "You're the biggest scene stealer there is, father. But you do have a way with words."

       Dale and Gadget both breathed in relief. They'd stumbled through some of the words, and each of them had problems looking the other in the face and with nervous giggling. The minister, a kind young mouse, shook both their hands, "Now, don't either of you worry. It's natural for the bride and groom to be nervous at the rehearsal, but I guarantee when it's the real thing it'll be smooth as silk."
      Dale took a minute to look around the huge interior of the cathedral, where he would be on display tomorrow. The cathedral was the oldest of its kind in New York, and had the air of antiquity about it. There were four separate sections of pews, extending fifty rows back on the two center sections, and forty rows on the outer sections. The altar was an ornate thing of carved mahogany with the large organ pipes forming a backdrop behind it, encased in more elegantly-carved wood.
      Looking out from the altar, there were double-doors on the right leading to the reception area for the wedding. Identical double-doors on the left led to the hall where the groom would emerge from. At the rear, there were halls leading left and right to the preparation rooms for the bride and to the vestibule, respectively. Looking up, huge wooden buttresses spanned the distance from the huge windows at the upper walls to a huge dividing beam that ran the length of the ceiling.
       The minister got everyone's attention. "Excuse me, everyone? I know that you're all likely tired and ready to go home to supper, but I have a quick ceremony to perform right now and if you wouldn't mind staying for about five minutes more I know the bride and groom would appreciate it." The Rangers all shrugged their shoulders and held their places. "Good," he said. "I thought you wouldn't mind. Would the bride and groom come forward?"
       Monty offered his arm to Eva and she accepted it with a smile. Arm in arm they approached the front of the cathedral. "Zipper, I need you 'ere for best man," Monty said. Monty arranged the guys in a line as groomsmen. Eva came over to her sister. "Bianca dahling, vhould you stand over here as my matron of honor?" Eva then brought the rest of the ladies together as bridesmaids.
       Monty held out his arm as Eva rejoined him. "I guess you kin all figure out what's goin' on here. Me and Eva are gettin' hitched again, I hope ya don't mind." Gabarah emerged from a side door and smiled in his own style. "I surely don't! I have come long way to see this moment." Gadget gasped in happiness, as she and the others took their places. "Oh, golly! Renewing your vows! That's so romantic."
       "What a wonderful idea!" Foxy echoed. "But why did you two keep it secret?" Eva appeared modest. "Well Foxglove, ve didn't want to take away anything from Gadget and Dale's wedding. We only vhanted those closest to us to be here for it. After all, we are still married so there is no need for the fancy vedding."
       "That's a sweet gesture, Cheeser," Kate said, congratulating them both. Bianca did as well. "I knew about it, as well as Gabarah. I am so happy for you, sister!" Bianca hugged Eva again and then resumed her place.

       "All right, padre, let's get this party started!" Monty said. Gabarah stood just behind Zipper, a picture of pleasure. Monty leaned over to Gabarah and whispered, "I hope ya don't moind Zipper here bein' me best man this time around Gabarah. You had that privilege the last time, mate."
       "I am still best mouse, Monty Jack. Zipper is now best fly!" Gabarah said. Zipper chuckled and then they let the minister continue, who only grinned and stood before Monty and Eva.
       "You both have decided to forego the official words of the ceremony and instead have asked for me to read this: Monterey Jack Erskine, do you now renew your vows you took with Eva Cordelia Râboga? Do you promise to remain faithful to her, love her and keep yourself only to her as long as you both live?" the minister asked.
       "You kin bet yer life on that, padre! Oh uh, yes, I do!" Monty said. A titter of laughter came up, and Cheddarhead slapped his boy on the back. The minister continued. "Eva Cordelia Râboga, do you now renew your vows you took with Monterey Jack Erskine? Do you promise to remain faithful to him, love him and keep yourself only to him as long as you both live?"
       "Yes, I do. I promise to live up to the vows I made so many years ago. And I promise never to run off again like that. I promise you, Monty, and my girls, Gadget and Lahwhinie," Eva said. Gadget had put her arm around Dale during this, but now she came forward and hugged her mother. Lahwhinie grabbed Eva's free hand and gave her a small smile then moved back. Eva kissed Monty and then the minister sensed it was time for him to say more.
       "Inasmuch as Eva and Monty have renewed their vows, and professed their love and faithfulness to each other, I proclaim them man and wife. I give you Mr. and Mrs. Erskine - and you may kiss the bride," the minister said with satisfaction. "It's déjà vu all over again," Monty said, picking up Eva and kissing her. Gabarah yelled in ritual fashion. "The two are one, and one will remain!"
       **I sure hope so, mate,** Monty thought.

       Cheddarhead hugged them both heartily, followed by Kate. "I'll second that notion, mate," Cheddarhead said. "Here's ta Monty and Eva!" Kate put her strong arm around Eva. "Welcome back into the family, dearie."
       "Thank you, mother Erskine. Thank you all for giving me the second chance," Eva said.
       "Thank you for giving yourself one," Kate replied. "Now see, Gadget and Dale? It's not such a tough road to go. We know you'll do wonderful tomorrow." Gadget mustered a smile. "Well, I hope so Kate, but I think we'll both be glad when it's over." Monty came over and stood by Gadget. "Aw, there's nothing to it lass! You saw yer mom an' I just do it, and we didn't fall over or anything."
       "Yeah, I guess it's not so bad," Gadget said, hardly sounding convincing. Dale didn't manage to do much better. "I think we'll live through it." The elders chuckled lightly as Dale walked back over to the pulpit to thank the minister.
       "Whew! Thanks, Pastor Bee... Lewis," Dale said. "I hope we can do as good as those two." The minister chuckled, and his eyes shone brightly. "Pastor Beefy's fine, Dale. Only my mother calls me Chester, and only my fellow pastors call me Pastor Lewis."
       "Well, it doesn't seem right calling a pastor 'Beefy'. I can't wait for tomorrow! Just think, me and Gadget, together forever." Dale suddenly started getting woozy at the thought. Beefy walked down from behind the cathedral's altar. "Quite a thought, isn't it? I can see that you both love each other. And since you're both Rescue Rangers, you know the meaning of dedication and sacrifice. I couldn't think of two people that should do better together."
       "That's sure swell of you to say," Dale said. "I'm glad you got the job to do this. I guess it's, what's the word...closure for all of us and for all the things that happened before when we were kids." Beefy had been waiting for the right moment, and now seemed the time. "Dale, I have a confession to make to you. I had a sabbatical coming, but I decided to forego it because...well, I wanted to make sure you had a good day."
       Dale shook his hand in pleased surprise. "Wow! Thanks Be...Lew...Che...Pastor!" Beefy showed Dale over to a pew away from the others. "I don't know how much you remember about me, but when you and Chip were kids I was in your class. I was a pretty stuck-up guy in those days, and looking for anyone I could find to intimidate. I was terrible to both of you, and it was a long time before I felt any forgiveness for all the things I did. But finally I had to find that forgiveness and it led me here. I just wanted you to know that the bully's gone and in his place is a mouse that would like you to count him as a friend if you'll have him."
       Beefy extended his hand again, and Dale grabbed it with both of his and shook it vigorously. "Sure thing. Welcome aboard!" Beefy gave him a broad smile in return. "Thanks, Dale. That means a lot to me. Do you think that Chip would be willing to let me talk to him, too?" Beefy asked. Dale looked over at Chip, now at the back of the room. "Sure, now would be the best time to talk to him."

       "Okay, then. Great to see you again, Dale, and I'll be rooting for you tomorrow," Beefy said. Beefy went into the vestibule, where Chip and Foxy had just broken off from the others and were discussing tomorrow's events. Beefy held out his hand to Chip.
       "Chip? I don't know if you remember me, but we knew each other a long time ago. I'm Beefy Lewis," Beefy said. Chip was chatting with Foxy when he heard someone approach him from behind. He turned and found himself staring his old nemesis in the face. However, this was not the annoying bully that he'd remembered from his childhood. Now instead, a peaceful and serene face looked back at him.
       "I remember, Beefy. It's hard to forget a person like you," Chip said, then wished it hadn't come out that way. Beefy took on a slightly apologetic look. "I'm sure it is. I made a lot of mistakes early on in my life, and it took a long time to straighten myself out but I finally did with some help. I just want you to know that I apologize to you for what I did back then. It was wrong, and I had no cause to treat you that way. I hope you can look past that time and forgive me now."
       Chip remained silent for a few moments and then extended his hand. Now seemed like the perfect time to bury the hatchet. "Sure, I forgive you if you forgive me for what happened during our last encounter." Beefy took Chip's hand and shook it warmly. "I did a long time ago, Chip. In fact, I think of that beating I got as one of the best things that happened to me because it led me to find the peace I now have. If you ever need someone to talk to, Chip, my door's always open to you night or day."
       "Thanks, Beef. It's good to see people can change if they really want too," Chip said.
       "Yes, things have gone well for me," Beefy said. "But look at you! You're the leader of one of the finest groups of crime-busters around, and you dedicated your life to helping others. That's a very noble cause. You must feel you're at the top of the world, Chip."

       Chip didn't want to get into his own recent problems, now that he was finally putting them behind him. "Well, it hasn't all been wine and roses, I'll tell you the details some other time. I've had some growing up to do myself lately and I'm a better person for it." Beefy smiled at him. "That's good to hear, Chip." Beefy turned to Foxglove. "I'm sorry, miss. Didn't mean to ignore you. Pastor Chester Lewis, at your service! Chip and I knew each other for many years - I wish they'd been better ones. And you are?"
       "I'm Foxglove, Chip's friend. Nice to meet you, sir," Foxy said.
       "Please, call me Beefy. All my friends do. Well, I see your group's about to leave. You'd better be going. Foxglove, very nice to meet you. Chip, I look forward to seeing you again tomorrow," Beefy said Chip shook Beefy's hand again. "I'll see you then. Maybe we can catch up on old times." Chip couldn't help notice that Foxy had just called him her friend and not some affectionate nickname as she often did. For a moment, he thought of asking her about it right then but he held back. Right now, the wedding took first priority.

       "Hey guys, wait up!" Chip said as he took Foxy's wing and they caught up with the others as they left the church. Dale and the rest of the group turned around. "Hey Chip, you almost had to get Foxy to fly you home!"
       "I'm glad I didn't, because we have a surprise for everyone when we get back," Foxy said. Dale's eyes widened. "The song? Are ya gonna sing the song? Areyahuhareyaareya?" Foxy nodded, and Dale shouted in pleasure. "Oboyoboyoboy! I was hoping to get ta hear it before Gadget and I..uh, leave." Dale instinctively looked over at Gadget and they both shared nervous looks. Chip knew he and Foxy couldn't give them a better send-off. "You guys'll love it. Foxy did it all, too. She's really a good student."
       "You mean I've got a great teacher, right cutie?" Foxy said, hugging him. Chip blushed, and the others laughed. When they got back to the treehouse, Monty and Cheddarhead helped to move the furniture back and they set up a makeshift stage right in the main room.
       Dale, ever the ham, was called upon to be the announcer. "And now, appearing for the first time ever on any stage, Foxy and Chip! Let's give 'em a big round of applause!" Everyone clapped as Foxy and Chip took their places, and smiled as they both checked with each other to be sure they were on the same page. Then Chip began playing a country tune on his guitar, and at the appropriate time Foxy started in. Her voice was soft and timid at first, but strengthened as she entered the first stanza.

       When the darkness of the dawn
       Makes the midnight last forever
       They come to the rescue
       Like the heroes we all love
       They don't do it for pay
       They don't do it for glory
       Better watch out you bad guys
       'Cause they're just a cut above
       Rescue me, Rangers!
       Don't let the evil win
       Rescue me, Rangers!
       I really need a friend
       My troubles may be small
       But I know through it all
       You'll always come and help me
       And you'll win out in the end

       When the Rangers realized that the song was about them, their smiles all got bigger. Foxy saw it, and it made her singing even better. When she started the second part of the song, Dale began clapping along and it quickly spread through the crowd.

       When all the chips are down
       They'll find a way to be there
       No problem is too big or small
       For their sentiment
       So whether it's a fat cat
       Or whether it's a mad man
       No one stands a chance against
       This team that's heaven-sent
       Rescue me, Rangers!
       Don't let the evil win
       Rescue me, Rangers!
       I really need a friend
       My troubles may be small
       But I know now through it all
       You'll always come to help me
       And you'll win out in the end...

       Dale immediately stood up and hollered, and the others stood up in a standing ovation with him. "Encore, encore!" Monty shouted. Dale twirled Foxy around. "Wow, a song about us! We're immortal! Sing it again!" Chip was about to tell him that Monty had already asked for that, but decided to let it go. Instead, he just started up the melody again, and soon everyone was singing along with Foxy.
       After three more encores, Foxy indicated that she needed a rest. The others gathered around her, congratulating her on her great new song. Foxy felt they were being overly kind, but humbly thanked them. Chip got a lot of compliments for his performance and help too.
       "You oughta go public with that act!" Dale said. "You'd rake in the dough." Foxy shook her head immediately. "Oh, I couldn't! I mean, being in front of you guys was tough enough. Going in front of thousands? I'd just faint!"
       "But you were so good!" Gadget said. "Everyone would be like us. We wanted you to do good, and they all would too. I bet once you tried singing in front of a crowd, no one could drag you off-stage." Foxy looked worried. "But what if they thought I was no good?"
       "No good?!?!" Dale said. "Foxy, you've got an awesome voice! I bet if there'd been an agent in hearing range, he'd have been clawing the door down by now!" Foxy didn't exactly like that idea, either. "But I want to stay with you guys. You aren't trying to get rid of me, are you?"
       Monty shook his head and put a hand on her shoulder. "Aw, 'course not. We're just revved up over that song 'o yours an' speculatin' about what ya could do. You gotta make your own choices, lass." Foxy breathed a small sigh of relief. "Thanks. I admit I like singing, but I'm a long way from feeling like I could do something like that for a living."
       Monty and Cheddarhead put the furniture back, and then everyone sat down for an evening's conversation. Wedding talk mixed with talk on Foxy's singing, and before any of them realized it, it had gotten late. Since tomorrow was a big day, everyone said good night early. Hugs and kisses of congratulations were shared again as everyone separated. Dale blew a kiss to Gadget, and she caught it and blew one back at him. Dale fell to the floor in a mock death scene, and Gadget shook her head and chuckled as she started upstairs.
       Chip had started to go on back with Dale, but once he'd gone to the kitchen for a quick bite he decided instead to go outside. Outdoors was where he did his best thinking, and he had some to do. The fedora-clad chipmunk looked out into the night. "I'm glad they got everything worked out. It would've been a shame to see everything fall apart, but now they're as happy as they could ask to be. It'll be hard to see them go tomorrow."
       From the shadows, Gadget appeared. Chip was caught by surprise. "G..Gadget! I didn't know anyone was out here." Gadget came over next to him. "I just wanted to think too, so I pretended to go upstairs and came out here instead. Sorry about eavesdropping, Chip. I didn't mean to."
       "That's okay. Can you believe you'll be married tomorrow?" Chip asked.
       "Almost. I'm pretty much like Dale is - ready for the ceremony to be over with. I'm nervous about the unknown too, but not as bad as I thought I'd be," Gadget said. "What about you and Foxy?" Chip gave her a 'you would have to ask' look. "Well, I'm trying to get her interested in looking for her family again. She still won't tell me anything either way, though."
       Gadget look on him in sympathy. "Well, give her a little more time. I think she'll come around." Then Gadget looked at Chip and wondered at his lack of response. "You do love her still, don't you?"
       "Of course, Gadget. I wouldn't consider marrying a girl I don't love. She asked me to marry her a while back, and I'm supposed to give her an answer tomorrow. It's just - I'm concerned about her," Chip said.

       "Why concerned, Chip?" Gadget asked. Chip sat down on one of the lawn chairs and looked back up at Gadget. "I just don't know if she's really ready for all this. I thought at first she was stronger than me inside, but then she asked me to marry her out of the blue and she even wanted to give up her dream of finding her family completely until I campaigned for it."
       "But the point is, you put her concerns first. What else is bothering you?" Gadget asked.
       "What if she can't handle it if her family's gone? Gadget, she's so sensitive and she's had so many disappointments," Chip said. Gadget sat on the lawn chair across from him. "You'll be there for her. She knows that, or she wouldn't even consider going."
       Chip pressed his fingertips on the wooden frame of the chair. "I just want her to be happy, and if her family's gone I know she won't be. It's a risk, Gadget, but it's one that I've got to do for her sake." Gadget pulled him up, her voice taking on an advisatory tone. "Chip, you can't let irrational fear keep you from trying. Foxy might have a hard time if they're all gone, but she's not fragile inside. She needs time like you did to learn how to be strong, but it'll come. I know it will. Now, do you know what you'll tell her?"
       "I think so," Chip said. "Thanks for the advice."
       Chip smiled a little and hugged Gadget. She always had a way of cutting through the tough stuff. "The game is afoot. Good night, Gadget, and..." Chip wanted to kiss her cheek and say good luck, but his emotions got the better of him and a lump came up in his throat. Instead, he managed a wry smile and turned to start back toward the inside as his eyes began to moisten. Gadget could almost read his mind at that moment. She stopped him and took his face in her hands, then leaned forward and gently kissed him. "Goodnight Chip, my dear friend."

       Chip never thought she would. He'd put the idea out of his head and had relegated it to the archives of his unrealized dreams department. But she had kissed him, and it was real. For several fractions of a second that seemed like an eternity, Chip was concerned that the passion he thought at one time he harbored for this girl would surge up in him. Something did surge, but it wasn't that. He cleared his vision, and the feeling spread through him. It wasn't selfish, or guilty, or passionate, but instead it was pure. Chip kissed her cheek, and whispered, "Thank you. And bless you, bless you both."
       "Thanks, Chip, and bless you too. You'll find your love, Chip. Don't give up hope and don't give up the search until you find Foxy's folks. I know you can do it," Gadget said, holding his hand. Chip smiled at her gratefully. "I won't...friend." After a final hug, Chip left and returned inside.
       When Gadget had kissed him, he felt like he'd been freed from the uncertain thoughts that had surrounded her. What was it that made him go from feeling old to feeling like the world was new? He wasn't entirely sure, but now Chip Maplewood knew that he could face tomorrow and live. And not just live - he would endure. Chip looked at Foxy's door as he walked past it in the hall, and wondered what adventures life held for them. Soon enough, he'd begin to find out.
       Chip went on into his room to find Dale pacing about. **I bet I could hook him up to Nimnul's rodent-powered reactor now and he'd bring it to meltdown by himself.** "So, what do you want to talk about?" Chip asked. Dale thought a moment, then kept pacing. "Anything but tomorrow. Help me get my mind off it!"
       "Okay, I'll tell you about this latest article in the magazine I got from the Sureluck Jones Society," Chip said, pulling the magazine from under his pillow. "It's got this great theory about how Sureluck knew who the criminal was in 'The Case of the Missing King.' " Chip began to rattle on about the various theories in the article, then looked up at Dale's bunk to see him asleep on his tummy. "Oh, well. Probably easier on him this way." Chip gently rolled Dale over and pulled the covers up, then went back down to his bunk and began reading the rest of the articles in his magazine.
       Dale had been asleep for what seemed five minutes when he felt someone nudging him. He rolled over, wondering why his mom wanted him up on a Saturday. Then he felt a harder nudge and Chip yelled in his ear. "Dale! Dale, wake up! We're going to be late!"
       "But Chip, we don't have school today..." Dale mumbled. Chip thumped his arm. "Get up, hurry! You're going to miss your own wedding!" Dale leaped out of bed, threw off his night shirt and ran out the door. Moments later Dale walked back into the room.
       "I guess getting dressed first would help," Dale said, embarrassment written on his face.
       Dale began looking for his tuxedo, but it was missing. He hunted under the bed, in Chip's bed (in case he was fooling him) and in all the drawers. When he'd looked everywhere, Chip went to Dale's bed and took the suit off of it and held it up impatiently.
       "Dale, you were sleeping on it!" Chip said. Dale blinked twice. "B..b..but I could swear...." Monty poked his head in. "Hurry it up, mates! It's gonna be a rush job as it is!" Chip threw the tux at Dale. "Hurry up, hurry up!" Dale pulled on his suitpants - backwards - and then had to reverse them. He fumbled with the suit coat's buttons but finally got it right.

       Dale finished dressing and Chip dragged him into the kitchen. The moment he got through the door he was struck in the face with a cheese flapjack. "Sorry, mate. I'm a bit nervous this mornin'," Monty said. Dale's hands were shaking as he removed the flapjack and began eating it. "YOU'RE nervous?! If anything else happens today, I think I'll scream!" Dale said. Zipper flew in, looking agitated. "I think I lost a cufflink..."
       "YAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!" Dale was shaking with nerves, and it made it very hard to get his fork anywhere near his flapjack. He pushed away his breakfast in frustration. "I'm too nervous to eat. How long till the wedding?" Chip walked to the main room, checked the clock and came back in. "Twenty minutes."
       "AAAAHHHHHHHHH!! What are we doing here? Let's go!" Dale shouted, and rushed out of the room like a madman. Chip followed him, an apologetic tone in his voice. "But Dale, we thought it'd be easier on you this way if you didn't have to wait so long! We were going to tell you in another minute or so!"
       Chip and Monty ran out as Dale was powering up the RangerWing. "Wait up, pally!" Monty said. The Aussie jumped in and Chip managed to grab a wing and pull himself up and in as Dale took off.
             Dale tried to concentrate on what he was doing, but it wasn't going very well. "Okay, don't be nervous, don't be nervous. You're marrying the greatest girl in the world. Everything's gonna to work out, just be calm…" The RangerWing began to sputter. Chip looked away from Dale, not wanting to see his reaction. "Uh oh, I forget to tell you. Gadget said we should take the RangerMobile instead of the Wing. She was doing maintenance on the engines."
       "Arggh! What else can possibly go wrong?" Dale asked. They were already nearing the church, so Dale pressed on anyhow. He managed to guide the plane down next to a mudhole, which he spotted just in time and jumped from the Wing, keeping his tux clean. Dale wiped his brow, glad that the string of bad events seemed to be over.
       "Whoa, that was too close! I guess I shouldn't have worn a white tux. How much time?" Dale said, hoping against hope he wasn't late. Monty looked up at the huge clock on the cathedral's stone edifice. "We still got a couple o' minutes! Hang on!" Monty rushed over to Dale, picked him up, put him across his shoulders and charged for the church. Chip raced ahead to open the door before Monty crashed into it.
       "Don't worry, Gadget! I made it to the church on time!" Dale said. Cheddarhead Charlie rushed up to Monty and Dale, picked them both up, and rushed them into a back room where Bernard helped Dale get ready. "We were afraid you'd be late, Dale. Hurry up, everybody's waiting!"

       Gadget had a look of desperation on her face as she emerged from the side room in the back and ran up the aisle to where Chip had taken up his place as best man. "Oh, jeepers! Chip, I'm so glad you're here! Bubbles came in while I was getting ready, and Lahwhinie was in there with me. She'd put on my veil as a joke, and Bubbles grabbed her thinking it was me!" Chip thought it over for a moment, then laughed. "Well, he'll be punished for it soon enough!"
       At that moment, a murmuring started at the back of the church as people began to point. Bubbles entered the church, with Lahwhinie on his shoulders. She'd grabbed a stick from somewhere and was beating his head with it while kicking the fire out of him with her heeled shoes. "That'll teach you, you overgrown ogre!"
       "Puh-lease get this creature off me!" Bubbles shouted. Monty ran up to them and pulled Lahwhinie off Bubbles' shoulders. "Easy now, luv. Ya don't want ta get blood all over yer gown." Eva and Chip stood between Bubbles and Lahwhinie. "Trying to kidnap my daughter? Just for that, consider yourself uninvited to the vedding!" Eva said.
     Bubbles looked at Eva in utter astonishment. "Invited? Here? You couldn't make me stay around, not even if you had two daughters who looked like her!" Gadget rushed up to her sister. "Lahwhinie, are you okay? You better not have hurt my sister, Bubbles!"
       Lahwhinie started in surprise at that name, looked at the huge mouse, and instantly broke into laughter. "Bubbles? Your name is Bubbles? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Bubbles just stared at first. It was too much for him. "There's two of them? All this time there were two!? Get away from me, you're freaking me out!" Bubbles ran out of the church, screaming.
       "Oh, so that's why he's called Bubbles," Lahwhinie said matter-of-factly. Chip had run up next to Lahwhinie to protect her, but instead of chasing Bubbles he just shook his head. "What a loser." Dale ran out, not willing to wait any longer. "Quick! The wedding, before something else goes wrong!"

       Dale grabbed his mom and arm-in-arm they rushed to the front of the church. The bridesmaids and groomsmen quickly followed behind, then Monty picked up Gadget and ran down to the front of the church and set her down next to Dale. "All right, padre, do yer stuff!" Monty said.
       "Not so fast, my ridiculous Rangers!"
       Fat Cat held the minister in his paw, and his goons appeared from the ceiling which they'd forced open. The assembly gasped in fear as the portly feline took center stage. "We haven't had an opportunity to pay our respects to the bride and groom. So here they are!" Fat Cat's gang came forward, pounding their fists.
       "I'll distract 'em with my new smoke grenade cufflinks!" Dale fumbled with them, then dropped one. "Oops, that's not the smoke grenade…"
Gadget turned to Dale with a look of worry. "I'm afraid to ask, but what was that, Dale?" Dale held his nose. "My old stink-and-smoke cufflinks! I forgot to switch 'em out. Cover your noses, everyone!" The stink bomb soon covered the entire front of the church. Eyes watered, and noses cried out in agony. However, it did have one good effect.
       "I can't...stand this smell! We'll...get you yet...Rangers!" Fat Cat said, wheezing. The feline felons retreated, and as they lifted the ceiling so did the smoke. The audience was pretty well spent by now. The minister's robe was tattered, and the smell was - well, not pleasant. But as Dale looked down, he found Gadget next to him on the floor and pulled her up. "Uh, sorry about that, Gadget, but at least it got rid of 'em, and that's a good thing, right?"

       Dale turned to see Rat Capone run up to the pulpit and he pushed Dale down. Arnold Mouseneggar and Sugar Ray Lizard grabbed the harried groom. "Now marry me and my moll, preach, and maybe I'll let you live!" Dale's anger was kindled. "Okay, that's enough! It's clob..."
       Rat Capone was about to say something snide to Dale, when Sugar Ray got his attention and pointed behind him. The rat turned to see Monty, Cheddarhead, Kate, Eva, Bianca, Bernard, Chip and Lahwhinie approaching him, each rolling up their sleeves and punching their fists.
       "Rat, dahling, that is my baby you are mistreating. I am afraid we must now all hurt you very much," Eva said. Before Rat Capone could make a remark, the family Erskine and the leader of the Rangers descended upon him and his cronies. With a ferocity that one would rarely see from gentlemen - let alone ladies like Eva and Bianca - they pummeled the threatening trio until they ran out bruised and battered.
       Dale turned to Gadget and sighed with relief. "Gadget, now there's nothing that can go wrong!" Suddenly the lights went out and Dale heard a scuffle occur near him. A few moments later the lights came back on, then Gadget took his hand and gave him a sly smile. She coughed some, holding her throat, but managed hoarsely to whisper she was okay. The minister took his place, wobbling somewhat. The ceremony went pretty smoothly after that, considering. Bride and groom said their vows as well as they could, and surprisingly made no slips.
       "And it is with a grand sense of relief, that I pronounce you man and wife! I give you Mr. and Mrs. Oakmont. You may kiss the bride," the minister said weakly. Dale lifted his wife's veil and puckered up, then he noticed that his bride had a flower in her hair.
       "Hello, hubby!" Lahwhinie said, revealing her true voice.
              Dale suddenly jerked up in bed, his fur soaked with perspiration. He looked around wildly. "Chip, has the wedding happened yet?!" he asked desperately. Chip looked out from his lower bunk and his Sureluck Jones magazine. "Why? Afraid you'll marry the wrong one?"
       Dale's expression was unforgettable. "Uh…no. Why do you ask?"
       "I dunno. You were moaning and groaning in your sleep, and kept mentioning something about 'going wrong' or something," Chip said. "Anyway, I was about to get up and wake you when you sat up."
       "Well, I guess I'm a little jittery. Did I oversleep? How long till the wedding?" Dale asked. Chip couldn't blame Dale for being nervous, but he'd rarely seen him reach these heights. "No, Dale. It's just past midnight. You were only asleep about thirty minutes. You've got a good ten hours yet."
       **Thirty minutes?! More like thirty lifetimes,** Dale thought. "Oh, good. I guess I can hold off on panicking till daybreak. What are you still doing up?"

       "Well, if you must know I couldn't sleep," Chip said. "I had too much running through my brain, and I decided to go ahead and read the rest of the magazine to calm down. It helped some, but my mind's still on overdrive." Dale climbed down from the top bunk. "Mine's on overworry. What if I goof up the wedding? What if I make a fool of myself in front of all the important people there?" Chip put down the magazine. "Dale, you're not going to be graded on your performance. They're coming to celebrate with you, not to judge you. Besides, when you see Gadget you won't goof up."
       "Oh yeah! She's gonna be a knockout! Oh, sorry, Chip. I guess I shouldn't rub it in," Dale said. Chip indicated he wasn't insulted. "No, it's all right now." Chip got up, and faced his friend. "Dale, I'm going to tell you something because you're my best friend and so there's no misunderstandings later. I was outside tonight, and thinking out loud about my problems. Gadget was out there, and I didn't notice her. She gave me a good talking to, and at the end she...kissed me. It was her way of thanking me for being honest and I let her thank me. But I know we're just friends, albeit good ones. I've let her go in my heart now, Dale. For good," Chip said.
       Dale was amazed and proud of his friend at the same time. "Well, thanks for bein' honest with me, Chip, and for bein' my friend. You gonna be okay once we leave? You're gonna have to get used to having the room to yourself tomorrow."
       "I'll be okay. I've got a mission to complete, and I'll do that first. Foxy needs her family, and once you two are off I'm making that my first priority once I convince her," Chip said. Dale was glad that Chip had something to occupy his time. "Good, a real case to get you back into shape. You'll find 'em. Then Foxy'll be really happy and then who knows what will happen after that?"
       "Yeah, who knows what…" Chip said. Chip felt a little awkward with what he wanted to say next, but said it anyway. "Dale?"
       "Yeah, Chip?" Dale said.
       "Congratulations, pal. Take good care of her," Chip said. Dale shook Chip's hand. "Thanks, and don't worry, I will." Chip was about to let it go at that, but another thought occurred to him. "Oh, and Dale?"
       "Yeah?" Dale said.
       "If you ever get in a spat and she kicks you out for the night, I'll still let you come down and sleep with me in your old bunk- provided you don't snore," Chip said, smiling. Dale smiled back. "I'll remember that. And someday when you get married, and your wife kicks you out for the night, you can sleep on our couch."
       Chip's voice was almost jovial now. "The hard, lumpy one with the springs out, right?"
       "For you, anything. I'm gonna catch a little TV, I think. Goodnight, Chip," Dale said. Chip chuckled a bit. "Goodnight, Dale." Chip watched him go, and both chipmunks slowly looked at each other with the knowledge that this was the last time it would be this way. Chip laid back in his bunk, and soon his eyes were barely open. **I'll miss you.**
       Dale was still feeling the effects of the dream he'd had, and the television looked like a lot better alternative than going back to sleep right away. His nerves were worn, but once Dale had been to the kitchen and grabbed some snacks to eat he felt the comfort of an old routine. The late-night television marathons had been a staple for him for years, but since he'd been spending time in the workshop or otherwise with Gadget he'd gotten out of practice. Now he sat down on the sofa in front of the tube, and it felt like saying hello to an old friend.
       "Okay, let's see what perils the late late late show has for me tonight..."
       Dale flipped on the remote, and started looking around. To his surprise, there wasn't a typical monster flick or third-rate space movie to be found. He kept looking and then on the classic movie channel he found Errol Flynn playing the lead role in the classic film Robin Hood. Dale had only seen this version once when he was a kid and decided he'd liked the animated movie a lot better. Now he started watching with some interest as Robin spoke to Marian at the merry men's camp, where they had Sir Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham prisoner. He laughed quietly at the friendly jibes of the merry men, and smiled as Marian left on a horse and waved to Robin. He could imagine his own Marian doing that. **I bet Gadget would like this movie too. Too bad she's not here to enjoy it.**

       After Chip had left her earlier in the evening, Gadget had started to go back inside but she really didn't feel like it. She'd been outside for about an hour when she sat down and tried to organize her thoughts and realized that there was some unfinished business that was nagging at her. **I'll take care of that first thing in the morning,** she promised herself and then headed for the door. She cracked it open, and saw Dale at the sofa watching a movie. She'd hoped in a way he'd be up, because it gave her one more opportunity to talk with him. Gadget walked in and cleared her throat once she was near the television.
       "Got room on that sofa for one more?" Gadget asked. Dale's face lit up when he saw her. "I'd sit on broken glass to make room on the sofa for you. You're just in time, Gadget! It's Robin Hood, but the old-time human version."
       Gadget sat down next to him, and dug into the snacks Dale had brought. "Gosh, I haven't seen this one in so long, I'd nearly forgotten about it. You couldn't sleep either, huh?" Dale tried not to let his nervousness show, so he kept his focus on the screen. "We're getting married tomorrow. I've never been more nervous in my life, but it's exciting too. I never thought I'd ever meet a girl like you, Gadget, and I certainly never thought I'd be the lucky guy that a girl like you would ever wanna marry."
       Gadget looked at the screen too as she responded. "I know. Now it's all coming down on our heads, and tomorrow it'll all be real." Gadget and Dale watched a while, as Robin daringly climbed up to Marian's room in the Norman castle and professed his love for her. The two watchers were both troubled when Robin was captured at the archery tournament and later cheered as Marian helped the merry men to free him. Gadget ate a little more and spoke up again, turning to face Dale.

       "I'm kinda glad we got this time, Dale, because I wanted to say a few things. You know how private I am, and how for a long time I didn't allow anyone to share my personal life. The time I've spent with you and shared means more to me than you'll ever know, because I finally learned how to give of myself to someone and yet not lose what makes me 'me'. I was so afraid that would happen at first," Gadget said.
       Dale turned from the screen and faced her. "And I was afraid that a relationship was just a way of doing anything to just not be lonely anymore. But with you it's about sharing our lives and being best friends."
       "And I couldn't have a better friend than you," Gadget admitted. "You understand my need to be alone at times, and to work on my inventions." Then she got a warm smile on her face. "I was so surprised that first day you offered to help me, because you had no idea of what to do. Now you're actually becoming handy to have around. And learning to draw and paint's been a neat experience. It's like inventing, but with colors. I never would've known the joy of that without you."
       Dale found her smile captivating as always and smiled kindly in return. "And I learned a lot from you. You've made me feel like a totally new person - like the goof I was before was just a bad dream. You let me see myself through your eyes."

       Gadget took his hand and leaned against him as they continued to watch the show. They experienced the fight scenes, the meeting with King Richard, and the big finale at the end. As the final scene closed, Gadget again turned to Dale. "You know, Dale, I thought I'd be nervous about - you know, our lives together. But you're right, it's like we're two old friends now. Is that how you feel about it?"
       Dale had been thinking the same thing. "Yeah. It's strange, Chip's always been my best friend but now it's different somehow. I guess when you grow up, you have to change and expand your circle of friends and sometimes...well, now you're my best friend. That's not to say that Chip isn't my best friend, but he's a different kinda best friend. Well it's hard to explain."
       Gadget chuckled. "Golly, you sound like me trying to explain something! I guess I'm rubbing off on you. I know what you mean, though." Gadget started to gather the blanket, but then thought better of it. "I think I'll go on now. Thanks for the movie, Dale."
       Gadget kissed him, and then stood up. "You need to head on too, you know. It's already three, and we'll have to be up early." Dale leaped from the couch and made a grandiose bow in front of her, doffing an imaginary hat. "May I obey all your commands with equal pleasure, your highness!"

       Gadget chuckled again and hugged Dale, then went upstairs. The nervousness was gone, and now she knew everything would be okay. She changed and got into bed, then looked over at the closet where Dale's Robin Hood costume lay hanging. "Thanks, Robin. I knew I could count on you."
       Dale was also at ease now, and turned off the television. He took the time to put up the empty snack bowl, and headed for bed. Chip was already asleep when he crept in, and Dale stopped and looked at his old friend. **You are my friend, and always will be. I hope you get to know the happiness I have tonight.** Dale got under the sheets, and his thoughts returned to the conversation he'd just had. **She's my friend too, and more. Gadget, I'll always treat you like the princess you are and my only wish is that we can wake up every day happy.**
       Dale turned over to sleep, but now he was on such a natural high that he still couldn't find rest. Then he remembered something - when he'd searched for Gadget's true identity, he'd wanted to thank the Hackwrenches for raising Gadget. Now he realized that there was a way of sorts to do that, and the chipmunk waited until near dawn to move again. When twilight came, he dressed quietly and managed not to wake Chip on his way out. Dale went outside to a spot where he knew some wild roses grew and picked two of them. He stood up and starting walking in the direction of the airport.



Chapter 11 – Beginnings

      The morning of July 21st began as most others do. The paleness in the sky slowly took on a golden sheen as the sun prepared to make its daily debut. The air was cool but not chilled, and there were already signs of life about. One of those signs was walking from a rodent-sized airplane toward a human-sized airfield. When the walker stopped, it was in front of two small gravestones that bore the names of Geegaw and Laura Hackwrench. Gadget knelt down and took a moment to clean off some debris that had worked its way in-between the iron bars of the fence she'd made to surround the markers. Then she stood.
       "Mom, Dad? I know I haven't been coming around as often as I should, but there's a reason for it. You see, I've finally found him," Gadget said. Gadget passed her hand gently over her father's name. "Yeah dad, I know you kept encouraging me to go out, but every boy from Cy Ortman to Wally Tibbets was only interested in my appearance. And then I finally got my dream - a boy that could look past my face and see me, the real me. It scares me some, though."
       Gadget looked over to her mother's name. "Don't worry though, mom. He's a good person. He's the one I've told you about before. You know, Dale? I can still remember coming here the first time when I knew I loved him and telling you all about him. How he was so considerate, but so afraid of everything. I almost lost him because I decided to tease him one day and see if it would get a reaction from him. It did, if you remember. He got really sad and quit trying to even talk to me. But then the wonderful thing happened and we found each other..."
       Gadget had to stop for a moment to reclaim her emotional balance. "And then he asked me to marry him. I was so afraid he wouldn't, but he did and I'm so happy! Oh, and Monty sends you his love too. I know you'd be glad he's my real dad since he was your friend and he's here to protect me, and I am glad that I have the Erskines now. Oh, did I mention I have another mom and a sister, too? Eva and Lahwhinie are both great. Mom, I'm sure you'd like them both."
       Gadget stopped again, and stood up. "Mom, dad, I know what happened with you adopting me now. I just want you to know I still love you like I always have, and I'll always have two sets of parents in my heart. I know you're probably happy for me too, and I wish I could hug you just for a minute and tell you what today means for me. For so long, you were all I had but now I'm going to be part of two families. I'm never going to be alone again."

       Dale approached the small fenced-in area that surrounded the graves of the Hackwrenches, but to his surprise he saw Gadget was already there, talking to the graves. Dale hesitated, but something unseen seemed to draw him forward and welcome him. Dale slowly approached, then he stopped outside of the fence and cleared his throat.
       "I see we both kinda had the same idea," Dale said.
       Gadget didn't turn around, but she straightened with her awareness of him and held out her right hand. "Mom, dad, this is Dale. I know that I've never talked to you this way with anyone else around, but I trust Dale." She waited until he'd joined her and had taken her hand. "I know you both loved me and wanted the best for me. It took me a long time, but I found happiness. You don't have to worry anymore, and I think...I can finally let you rest."
       Gadget squeezed Dale's hand tightly, and Dale spoke. "And you can rest peacefully, I swear that. I'll love Gadget and treat her with the respect and love she deserves. I'll never harm her, and I'll always listen to her. I'll love her more than life itself."
       Dale moved the two roses in his hand to his fingers, and he knelt and put one at the bottom of each stone. When he looked up, Gadget's tears were falling heavily. He stood and she fell into his arms, crying. Dale held her without saying a word, and he instinctively knew he'd given her perhaps the greatest gift yet - he'd allowed her to cry over her parents, and let the pain go. After a few minutes, he spoke to her softly and patted her back like a loving parent would. It took several minutes more, but at last the tears stopped.
       "I couldn't live without you, Robin. Thank you," Gadget whispered, then found her smile again, wiping away the tears. "Promise me we'll come here every now and again to keep it nice."
       "Of course I promise. I owe them so much for being your mom and dad," Dale said. "Now they're my folks, too." Gadget reached for Dale and kissed him. As they shared their love, there was an almost audible sigh that Gadget felt more than heard. The past had passed, and now Gadget took her betrothed's arm without looking back.

       "C'mon, Robin. We've got a date with a preacher," Gadget said. Dale chuckled, "Yeah, I don't want Monty chasing me down with a shotgun." Gadget laughed, and smiled the more as they headed back. "You always know how to make me happy. I'll never get tired of that, Dale. Not ever."
       Dale smiled, then it left him as a thought occurred to him. "Hopefully it's early enough to get back in without anyone noticing we're out. We're not supposed to see each other before the wedding, are we?" She looked at him and shrugged a little. "Well, I don't think they'll mind. Besides, I wouldn't have traded what just happened for anything."
       Dale looked at the girl holding his arm, as they walked back together toward the RangerWing. **I can't believe it, I did something really right. I didn't screw it up and make a fool of myself.** "Neither would I, Gadget." The happy couple landed back at headquarters, and they crept inside. No one was up yet, and Gadget gave Dale a light kiss on his nose and whispered in his ear as she turned to go upstairs, "I'll see you at the altar."
       "I'll be there. Uh, just make sure Lahwhinie doesn't try to impersonate you, okay?" Dale asked. Gadget turned around and winked at him, then she carefully made her way upstairs.
       Dale didn't feel like returning to bed, so he went in the kitchen to make a snack. He came back into the main room, and sat on the couch as the glow of the dawn fully penetrated through the windows. He couldn't remember a morning so lovely, and he knew he would never see one like it again. Dale went to Gadget's workshop and brought out his equipment. Within minutes, he was capturing the glow of this day in the best way he could. He knew that the picture would only mean something to Gadget and himself, but that was enough. He was cleaning up when Monty came into the room, stretching.
       "Crikey, lad! Here it's your weddin' day, and you're paintin' like nothing big's happenin'. What did ya want ta paint a picture o' the room for, mate?" Monty asked. Dale added some more pigment to the canvas. "Not of the room, the sunrise! The sunrise of the most glorious day of my life." Monty came over and watched Dale add a few final details. "Oh, I got ya now lad. That's a roight nice sentiment, it is. I'll help ya put that stuff away, and then I'll cook ya up a special hot batch o' me cheese flapjacks!"
       "Sounds good, Monty. I'm so hungry I could eat!" Dale said.
       Once the painting supplies were put away, Monty launched into his cooking with a will. The smell of cheese and batter mingled for a savory aroma. Monty turned to Dale, grinning with a relish. "I've gotten so good with me flapjack flippin', I bet I could flip you a batch right on yer plate. Ya want I should try it, pally?"
       Dale had a sudden flashback to his nightmare. "NO! That's not necessary." Monty turned back to his cooking. "All right then, but ya don't know what yer missin'!" Monty brought the flapjacks over - much to Dale's relief - and soon the hungry chipmunk was stuffing his face pouches full.
       "Boy, you really are hungry aren't ya? Haven't seen anyone wipe out a mess o' my cheese flapjacks like that since the big flapjack eatin' contest a bunch of us had in the Yukon one time! The gold rush up there was done, and I was workin' me way south when a rowdy lot o' lumberjack rats challenged me an' a rival camp ta see who could cook up an' eat the most flapjacks in an hour. Boyo, you shoulda seen yer father-in-law ta be that day! I had those flapjacks flyin' outta the pan faster'n you could see!" Monty said.
       Dale smiled at the thought of Monty being his father-in-law. "I'm sure you did, Monty. Say, how long now till the wedding?" Monty walked out of the kitchen and came back in again. "It's 6:47 right now, so you've got a good three hours or so yet ta get yerself dolled up 'fore we leave."
       "I guess I better get started. Thanks, Monty," Dale said, getting up. Monty watched him head for the door, perplexed. "Now? Lad, it won't take ya 30 minutes! It's not loike you're rushed or anything, ya know." **You know that, but me and my dream know different.** Dale wrung his hands. "I gotta do something. I'll go nuts if I just sit around waiting!"
       Monty could see the nervous tension building in Dale, so he knew in this case he was probably right. Monty got to cooking again for the rest of the group, and once he'd cooked enough for everyone sat down himself. Monty stopped in the middle of a bite and thought - today, it was different. At day's end he'd have a son-in-law, and maybe one day grandchildren as well. The idea of that shocked the old adventurer for a moment. He'd never really intended to be anything but a traveler, wandering the highways of the world - now he had a family, a life and a home. There were days that he'd smelled the greener grasses of the next hill, but those days were long over, and inside he was happy they were. He had people to love and love him back, and in the end that meant more to him than any story he told. He snapped back to consciousness and finished eating as Dale slipped back into his room.

       Dale looked at his white tux like it was an old friend. "Today, Double-O-Dale, will be your toughest mission: to wed Gadget Hackwrench. Can our hero succeed?" Chip yawned, and stretched. "He'd better, or his nemesis Dr. Chip will let him have it. Getting ready already?"
       "If I don't have something to take my mind off the wedding, my head'll explode and that won't be good for a white tux," Dale said. Chip put on his regular clothes. "Not to mention my room. Which reminds me, you've still got to clean out your bubble gum card collection."
       Dale opened the drawer in the chest next to their bunks, which was crammed full of the collectibles. "Don't worry. I'll sell those to put the kids through college." Chip shook his head and got up. "I never thought all your junk would end up being worth something. Just goes to show you that if you keep anything around long enough it eventually becomes valuable."
       "Yeah, I guess that's the way it is," Dale said. "Are you all ready - got the suit, the ring and stuff like that?" Chip stretched again and put on his jacket. "Yes, yes and yes. They're all right where I showed you they were last night when you asked me, and the night before, and the night before...."
       Dale was grateful he had Chip to help him, now that w-day had arrived. "I just want everything to be perfect! No pancakes in the face, no crashing RangerWing, no stink-and-smoke cufflinks going off during the ceremony, no marrying Lahwhinie by mistake." With anyone else, Chip might have wondered at those comments. Instead, he knew it was just Dale's wild imagination taking its course. "Dale, everything will go fine. Trust me."

       To Chip's credit, he'd done some planning for this day. He'd arranged for Monty to distract Dale with helping the Aussie get dressed, while Gadget and her entourage had slipped out from the lair and headed for the cathedral downtown.
       Zipper and Monty managed to keep Dale occupied for the most part, and then Chip gave them the high sign. The boys left for the wedding with an hour to go, and all was silent at Ranger Headquarters - for about five minutes. At Tammy's request, Rob and 20 of Tammy's high school friends had volunteered to secretly decorate the place. They'd all eagerly accepted since they'd been there when the marriage proposal was made and wanted to make the Rangers' day "totally rad" as Tammy put it. Tammy had to be at the church, so she'd given Rob her spare key to the Rangers' door. With all of them working, they were out of there in plenty of time to get to the ceremony.

       When the boys arrived outside the cathedral, they landed the RangerWing with no problems. They hurried up the steps, but a voice held them up. "Wait, please!" a boy called. They stopped and saw a young chipmunk wearing an baseball cap and hand-me-downs running up to them with a pencil and paper. "I know you're all in a hurry, but could I have your autographs? Your friends gave me theirs earlier. Please?"
       Chip looked at the time, and they had plenty. "Sure, kid. We've always got time for a fan." Chip took the paper and saw that Gadget, Eva, Kate, Cheddarhead and even Lahwhinie and Tammy had signed it. **This kid's good,** Chip thought as he signed and then Dale, Zipper and Monty followed suit. "Have you been here all mornin'?" Dale asked.
       "Ever since I got wind that there was gonna be a Ranger wedding," the boy said. "Thanks, everyone!" The chipmunk started to go, then Chip had a thought. "I bet there's room in a back pew. Why don't you come in with us?" The lad didn't need to be asked twice. "Cool!" They all smiled as the boy came happily inside with them and Chip found him a seat in the back next to two R.A.S. delegates from Turkey. The boy thanked Chip, and then Chip waved goodbye and went to join the others.

       The two factions were in final preparations in their respective camps when Chip walked in on the guys. Dale was fidgeting, and Monty was straightening his tie. "Does my suit look okay? What about my fur? Is my breath all right?" Chip shook his head, good naturedly. "As long as you've still got breath in your lungs, I think you're fine."
       Monty straightened Dale's tie for the fourth time. "Hold still! You're as jumpy as a mexican jumpin' bean!" Zipper sat on a chair and tried to reassure his friend. "You'll do just fine, Dale. You look great."
       "I hope so. I even made sure that I removed the super spy cufflinks from my suit. I don't want anything goin' wrong today!" Dale said. Monty looked at him curiously - something he was doing all too often lately. "Why? You didn't think that one of 'em would go off and spritz everyone, didja?"
       Dale checked his pockets to make sure there were no unexpected surprises in them. "I didn't wanna take any chances. Does the cathedral look okay? Any signs of intruders lurking? What about my folks?" Chip looked on in wonder at the energy this chipmunk had stored up in sheer nervousness. "The cathedral's still there, the minister's okay, your parents are here and fine, and there's no sign of anything going wrong. Now will you quit worrying for once and try to enjoy this a little?"
       Dale sat down, then stood right back up. "I can't. Not when I'm the center of attention." Zipper could only sympathize with his friend, and wonder if it would be like this if and when he married. "C'mon, bucko. It's not like you're marching out to a firing squad. You're getting the best girl you could ask for and they've all come to celebrate with you." Dale began pacing nervously. "I know, but still it's going to be very nerve-wracking. At least when Gadget show's up they'll all forget about me."
       "At least when Dale's out there they'll all forget about me!" Gadget said, pacing around the room. Eva tried her best to comfort her, but knew this was just the typical jitters. "Well, until the vedding march begins dear."
       "Oh yeah, I forgot," Gadget said, thinking about that. "Oh golly! I'm so nervous I think I could walk down that aisle backwards and not realize it!" Tammy was oblivious to Gadget's plight, basking in the glory of the moment. "Oh Gadget, this is going to be such a beautiful wedding, you're so lucky!"
       Honey was there also, at Zipper's bequest. "Never fear, Gadget, you will comport yourself ably. It is an event almost worthy of royalty. I am gratified I was able to take part in this day." Bianca caught up with Gadget's pacing and held her arm. "Now, now, dahling. You know that you love Dale, and you'll get each other through this. Just vait until you see him at the end of that aisle!"
       Gadget smiled at that idea. "Yeah, he'll be so handsome in his white tux and his cute red nose." A knock came at the door, and Bianca opened it slightly. "Yes?" Gadget started fidgeting again. "Oh, I hope it's not the boys. They've probably gone and done something like losing the ring or getting it stuck on Monty's finger or something."

       Bianca gasped in surprise. "Oh, thank heavens you made it in time! Gadget, you have a visitor - visitors, in fact." Gadget turned around, and there were three mice standing in the doorway. Two of them were older and one was a little younger than Monty and close to his size.
       Bianca brought them in. "Gadget, I have the honor to present Viktor and Ilsa Râboga, your grandparents. And this is your uncle Bela Râboga." Gadget hesitantly approached them and extended her hand. "Golly, it sure is nice to meet you."
       Viktor come forward first. He had Gadget's blue eye color, which contrasted nicely with his white brows and dulling brown fur. He gave the appearance of a very intellectual and experienced person. When he spoke, it was with a thick Slavish accent. "You will pardon if the English is not perfect, Gadget. We have heard news of your marriage and we wished to come and tell you how...how pleased we are that you are a Râboga. You come from a long and...distinguished line of ancestors." Gadget was immediately impressed by Victor's charm and austerity. "Golly, thanks sir. I'm glad you don't mind having two unexpected granddaughters."
       Ilsa came forward to join Viktor. She was wizened-looking as well, with very perceptive green eyes. She studied Gadget for nearly a half-minute, then spoke in slow but clear English. "In life, there is the unexpected that is bad. But this is blessing. As we say in Hungary, the life that is found is better than the life that is lost. We velcome you Gadget Bianca Râboga to our family."
       Ilsa held out a wooden box that she had been carrying. Gadget took it and when she opened it she found that she was staring at a stunning necklace, fashioned with intricate yet delicate metalwork and three medium size diamonds hanging from the metal strands. "This necklace has been vorn by the Râboga brides for five centuries. Your mother and aunt did not have the opportunity to vear it, so now the honor is yours if you vish it."
       Gadget held the priceless heirloom up and watched as the light made the diamonds sparkle. "I vish...uh, wish it. Thank you!" Gadget hugged her grandmother, and despite Ilsa's stoic nature she seemed to enjoy it. "I am glad that ve had one last chance to see the necklace used, my dear. For our family, it means a continuation of our tradition. I understand that you have a sister as vell. She may have use of the necklace as vell if you desire, but since you are the first to marry the responsibility is yours now. Vhen I die, this will be sent to you, Gadget Bianca Râboga. Yours vill be the task to see that future Râboga brides carry on the tradition, if any."
       Gadget couldn't believe that she was going to give the necklace to her. "Golly, I'm honored, grandmother. Thank you." Ilsa nodded in response. "You are most velcome, dear. Bela here is the last of the great line of Râboga metal artisans. If you ever have a problem vith it, send it to him at our home in Tatabánya. He will be able to repair any damage. The necklace should hold up vell, as almost all the silver has been replaced over time with platinum," Ilsa said.
       Bela stepped forward and bowed brusquely. He was a muscular mouse, with nary an ounce of flab on him and a deep but kind voice. "I am pleasing to be at your service, Gah-jet. It honors me to be your uncle." Gadget liked him immediately, and shook his burly hand. "I'm so glad everyone is taking this so well. You've all helped make this day extra-special. Now I have two sets of grandparents and an uncle!"

       A short conversation ensued, and then Lahwhinie came in wearing her blue bridesmaid's dress. "Gadget, they're ready whenever you are and I hope it's soon. I've already fooled the organist twice and I think she's getting antsy. Say, who are these people? And what a sparkler of a necklace!" Eva brought Lahwhinie over to the Râbogas. "Lahwhinie dahling, this is my side of the family. These are your grandparents and your uncle."
       Viktor took Lahwhinie's hand and kissed it. "I am your grandfather, Viktor, and this is my wife Ilsa and my son, Bela." Lahwhinie took the time to shake the men's hands and quickly hug Ilsa. "Thanks for coming. I'm not that good at compliments, but I think that all of you coming this far was really nice."
       Ilsa studied Lahwhinie the way she had Gadget. "You are not like your sister. You are like me." Lahwhinie's brows came down in confusion. "What?" Ilsa continued, "You have my stubbornness in you. Your mother and sister were both spared, but I knew that someday the Tovâncha blood would show itself again. It is said that those who show the Tovâncha stubbornness are the ones that have the most success in life." Lahwhinie shrugged, "Well, looks like sis here's got a lock on the success part."
       "Do not be so hasty," Ilsa said. "Be patient. Find your inner strength, and then you vill see." Lahwhinie didn't know what to make of that, so she nodded and returned her attention to Gadget. "Well, are you ready yet? What should I tell them?"
       "I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Tell them we can start," Gadget said.

       Dale was hoping none of the people in the audience had heat vision, because all eyes seemed to be trained on him as Chip and Monty escorted - or rather pushed - Dale out toward his place at the front. Every seat in the place was taken, and the crowd began to murmur in anticipation of the big moment. Dale held them up once he saw just how many people there were. "I don't know if I can do this! I wish I'd worn my smoke grenade cufflinks now. Then I could use them to hide my escape," Dale said.
       Monty looked at the crowd, and the estimate of five hundred people was a gross understatement. "Crikey. There's more people in this place than at the last game o' the world soccer finals I was at in Brazil! Right bonzer bash, that was. Brazil won 'er 2 ta 1 an'...."
       "Not now, Monty," Chip said. "Dale, you're okay. See, your parents are right over there on the front pew and there's all our friends!" Chip turned Dale around to face him. "Dale, I haven't told you this before but I'm...honored to have you as my friend. You're proven yourself worthy of being a Rescue Ranger, and worthy of Gadget. Now forget those butterflies and show the world what you've got."
       Dale took a deep breath. "Yeah, I gotta remember that. I am good enough. I am." Dale marched boldly the rest of the way to the front to wait for Gadget. He turned and smiled at his folks and then turned toward the back, eager to see Gadget in her wedding gown. He also saw the dozens of reporters, VIP's, and ambassadors who had come. There were countless other people - some they'd met on missions and some were just people they either knew or had met briefly or knew them in some fashion or other. Dale tried to blank them all out and wondered if Gadget's dress would look anything like the wedding dress he painted in the picture he'd made before he proposed.

       The organist started the music for the wedding march. The notes from the huge organ filled the giant building as Bink headed the procession from the rear as flower girl, spreading petals to make the way for those following her. She was older now, around ten years old and still in her cute phase. The bridesmaids came next, and Dale flinched when he saw Lahwhinie heading up one group, remembering the dream. She smiled a little at him, but nothing more. Dale relaxed and watched as the others entered with her in step. During Chip's talk, Monty had sped to the rear to take his place. Now he was there, and Gadget stepped forward to meet him.
       "Well, it's that time, dad. No going back now," Gadget said. Monty looked her over, and couldn't imagine a vision more lovely. "And no reason ta, everything's perfect. You look perfect." He wiped the tears from his eyes and lowered the veil over her face. "Me darlin' angel."
       Gadget had to take his hand to steady it. "Relax, you're more nervous than I am." The volume of the organ increased and the large audience stood and looked back. Monty offered his arm. "This is it, lass. I love ya more than I can say, Gadget luv." Gadget took his arm, and looked up into his eyes. "I love you too, Monty...dad. Let's go."

       The big moment was here. Dale's eyes were transfixed on the point where he knew she would come out. When they emerged, it indeed looked like an angel had descended among them. Monty led the veiled bride to the head of the aisle, and they began to walk slowly. Gadget was arrayed all in white satin, with a long train behind her. Even through the veil, Dale noticed the sparkle of the diamonds and her earrings, but for him the entire universe was gone. All he saw was this vision, this incredible vision coming nearer. He wondered if it had been like this for Robin Hood at his wedding. He hoped it had.
       **Dale, you are the luckiest guy on the planet**

       Gadget had been aware of all the faces on her and had blushed some under her veil. She grabbed Monty's arm a little more tightly, reassured by his strength. As she began walking down the aisle, her heart pounded at the wonder of the moment. Then she found him. Her eyes locked on Dale, and she could see that his were on her. He looked just like the way Robin had during the song sequence they both loved, and she'd sang to Dale. How long ago had that been? It seemed an eternity, but now she could feel the bond strengthening between them as she drew nearer. Her smile returned, and a calmness settled on her as they cleared the last pew. The minister took his place, and winked to Dale and Gadget.

       "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of God to join this man and woman in holy matrimony..."
       Like in the classic movie, Monty had been listening for his cue. He remembered what that father had done and checked a little behind him with his foot to be sure Gadget's train was clear. Then it was upon him. "Who gives this woman to be married..." Beefy asked.
       "I do..." Monty said quietly, placing Gadget's hand in Dale's, and then stepped back and took his seat next to Eva, who hugged him. Beefy turned his attention to the bride and groom. "Dale Archer Oakmont, do you take Gadget Bianca Râboga Erskine Hackwrench as your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, remaining faithful only to her as long as you both shall live?"
       "Oh yes, sir. I do," Dale said. The crowd giggled a little at Dale's matter-of-fact reply. The minister grinned at him, and then turned to Gadget. "Gadget Bianca Râboga Erskine Hackwrench, do you take Dale Archer Oakmont as your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, remaining faithful only to him as long as you both shall live?"
       "Golly, I certainly do!" Gadget said.
       "Way to tell 'im, Gadget luv!" Monty whispered under his breath. The crowd laughed a little at the way she put it, and both Dale and Gadget blushed. They held on to each other's hand, and Beefy smiled along with everyone. "May we have the rings, please?" Beefy asked.

       Chip brought the ring for Dale, and Lahwhinie brought the ring for Gadget. Beefy turned to Dale first. "Dale, place the ring on Gadget's finger and repeat after me - with this ring, I thee wed." Dale tenderly took Gadget's hand, as if he thought he might be burned. He placed the ring on her finger and said, "WiththisringItheewed!"
       The crowd couldn't help it, and neither could Gadget. Some of them managed to hide the laughter, but most like Dale's parents just let go. Dale was concerned for a moment that he'd messed up, but Gadget reached with her free hand and turned his face back to her. Her eyes shone, even though the veil, and nothing else mattered to him. Beefy recovered himself, and continued. "Gadget, place your ring on Dale's finger and repeat after me - with this ring, I thee wed."
       Gadget giggled a little and said, "WiththisringItheewed!"

       That did it - the entire congregation, dignitaries and all, was caught up in the laughter, and even Chip was laughing. Dale was too, and somehow it seemed appropriate. Beefy dried the tears from his eyes. "It is a rare and holy gift to have the blessing to make others happy, and I think we can all agree that we've joined in the happiness of these two lovely people today. Inasmuch as Gadget and Dale have consented together in holy matrimony, and have pledged their troth by the exchange of the rings in the sight of God and this company, I declare that they are husband and wife. With laughter in my heart, I present you Mr. and Mrs. Oakmont. You may kiss the bride, Mr. Oakmont!"
       Dale gently lifted her veil, quickly checking to see if there was a telltale flower in her hair, then he smiled. Gadget could see tears begin running down his cheeks, as he looked at her. Dale savored the moment as long as he dared. "I love you, Mrs. Oakmont." Then he kissed her. Gadget embraced him, and the laughter quieted down as the kiss kept going. In years to come, people would remember the ceremony for the laughter, but even more for this. As they finally parted, the crowd rose as one to applaud them, and the celebration was on.
       "Golly Dale, I think we're a hit!" Gadget said. Dale chuckled, "Let's give 'em an encore."

       Actually there was more than one encore, but then Dale and Gadget led the way to the reception set up in a large meeting room in the cathedral. Their parents stood at the entrance and thanked all the guests for coming, and once everyone was situated the cake-cutting commenced. Husband and wife held the knife together and cut into the triple-tier treat that was beautifully rendered and featured miniatures of them on top. Dale shouted in delight as the first piece fell free.
       "Chocolate cake! Wowie zowie!" Dale said. Gadget handed the piece to him. "That was my suggestion - I know how my husband loves it." Dale held the piece up, and they both ate it together. "Wow, you've thought of everything! Thanks, Gadget."

       The cake was quickly divvied up, with Dale going back for seconds and thirds and Chip swore he saw him up there once more. Chip shrugged and returned back to talking with Foxy - after all, it was his cake. Once Dale's chocolate cravings were satisfied, Gadget tapped him on the shoulder. She pointed to the ensemble of musicians, who at her signal began playing.
       "May I have this dance?" Gadget asked. Dale offered her his arm and chuckled. "I guess if I have to…" Bianca got the crowd's attention. "Clear a place, everyone! The bride and groom are about to have their first dance!"
       The musicians played the waltz from "The Blue Danube" as Dale led Gadget across the floor, surrounded by the admiring onlookers. Gadget was so relieved she'd learned to dance, and found herself enjoying the attention. Once they had finished, the crowd applauded kindly and Gadget kissed Dale. Then the tune changed, and everyone turned in curiosity because it didn't sound familiar at first. Monty had just come from the leader, and at his request they were playing "Waltzing Matilda".
       Monty approached Gadget and extended his arm. "Might I have this dance, Mrs. Oakmont?" Gadget looked to Dale first. "I thought you'd never ask. Dale?"
       "Sure! Gotta stay on good terms with my father-in-law," Dale said, winking at Monty. Monty took his daughter's hands and began to dance, starting slowly so she could follow his lead. "Ya look and move like an angel, Gadget luv." Gadget smiled up at him. "Flatterer. But with these jewels on and all I feel like a countess or something. I didn't know you danced this well, Monty."
       "Well, It's not something we get much chance ta do as Rangers," Monty said. Eva noticed that Dale was without a partner and immediate took steps to rectify it. "Dale, vhould you give your mother-in-law the pleasure of a dance?" Dale took her hand. "Sure ma'am, I'd be honored." Dale offered her his arm, and Eva took it with grace. "Oh, thank you kind sir. It is not every son-in-law who is so considerate as you."
       She beamed at Dale, and they started dancing as well. Gadget and Monty noticed their addition to the dance floor. "Dad, er, Monty...have you really worked things out with Eva? Do you know if she'll stay?" Gadget asked. Monty nodded, and watched his wife too. "Yeah, yer mom an' me have patched things up pretty well. She's tired o' runnin' and fightin'. She hasn't had a real home or family in over twenty years. She said she's tired, and mentioned somethin' about writin' her memoirs."
       Gadget returned her attention to her dancing. "I bet she's had about as many adventures as you have. Monty, what's going to happen to the Rangers now? Will it be the same when Dale and I get back?"
       "Nothin's changed far as I kin see. We're better in fact. We've all done a little growin' up and with yer mom here, maybe she'll even help out toime to toime. I'm excited about it," Monty said. "Oh, and we can't forget yer sister. Maybe we can get her to be a Ranger too."
       Gadget got distracted at the thought, and Monty noticed it and asked after her. "I don't know about Lahwhinie, Monty. She's made a big step, certainly, but I don't know if she's ready to be a Ranger or not. I'm getting mixed signals from her and - I'm not sure how good she is for Chip."
       "Well, he's a grown lad. He already showed he kin take care o' himself against her wiles. Don't worry lass, we'll turn her around and make somethin' good outta her yet," Monty said. Gadget nodded slowly. "I hope so. I really do."

      In amidst the crowd, Queen Honey Regina the Third and Zipper were dancing - well, flying and dancing. They stopped when they approached Cheddarhead and Kate. "I'd like you to meet Queen Honey," Zipper said. "Your majesty, these are Monty's parents and Gadget's grandparents, Cheddarhead Charlie Erskine and his wife Camembert Kate." Honey smiled austerely and held out her hand to Cheddarhead. "I am pleased to meet you both."
      Cheddarhead took her tiny hand and kissed it grandly. "I'm roight glad ta make yer acquaintance, yer majesty. Zipper's told us about you, but I never imagined how lovely ya were."
      Honey had not been prepared for Cheddarhead's charm, and she smiled and giggled slightly. "Well, thank you. I am pleased to have met you. Zipper and I are very good friends, but I do confess I have feelings for him." Kate smiled at Honey's honest reply. "I don't blame you a bit for that, dearie. Zipper's one fly whose head's on his shoulders. You could do a lot worse than him, ya know."
      "I've been...giving it some thought. There are complications, but Zipper's the nicest person I've ever met," Honey said. Zipper smiled humbly at her compliment. "And Honey's one of the most wonderful people I've ever met. Her goodness makes me want to be around her all the time."
      "Plus it does a lad good ta be around a classy lass," Cheddarhead noted. "Hope we'll be seeing a lot more of ya around, yer majesty." Cheddarhead bowed, and Honey nodded her approval. As she and Zipper flew off, Cheddarhead whispered to Kate, "see, I told ya I could put on me manners as well as anyone. The Duke o' Earl couldn't 'ave done it better."

    Gadget and Dale both changed partners several times, but the one person that Gadget had hoped would come forward did not. While she danced with Percival, Gadget looked over to Dale who was talking with his sister Melanie. Dale saw her, and followed her eyes. He knew what she wanted, and excused himself. Dale went over to Chip, who had just finished his promised dance to Melanie Oakmont and was now into a discussion with Viktor Râboga on the finer points of Tolstoy.
       Dale grabbed Chip by the elbow. "Sorry to barge in, but Chip has a special duty to perform. He hasn't danced with the bride yet." Chip tried to think of an excuse, but there was none. Besides, everyone around him was looking at him expectantly. Dale led him forward, and Gadget was standing there with her gleaming eyes and inviting smile.
       Dale ran to the conductor and whispered into his ear, and the airs to "Wouldn't It Be Loveley" from My Fair Lady filled the room. Chip stood there in front of her at first. "He knows that's my favorite." Gadget smiled to put him at ease. "Don't be afraid, Chip. We're all friends here." She took his hands and they began to dance.
       "I know you wish this could have been our wedding, I'm sorry. But thank you for coming and for being happy for us today. You're a wonderful guy, Chip Maplewood," Gadget said. Chip paused a moment before replying. "Thanks Gadget, but that wasn't what I was wishing for. I didn't think you'd want to dance with me."
       "Why would you think that?" Gadget asked, utterly surprised Chip would say that.
       "I dunno, it's silly I guess," Chip said. "I just felt guilty today about all the stuff that happened before and..." Gadget stopped him before he could say any more. "Chip, you don't have anything to feel guilty about. You're my friend, and Dale's friend, and neither of us could ask for a better one. This is a celebration, be happy!" Chip shook his head a bit in wonder. "You're better to me than I am to myself. But my wish is that someday I can find the kind of happiness you have with Dale now."

       The musicians kept their musical theme going with "I Could Have Danced All Night". Chip found his smile again, and began to enjoy himself. "Don't worry, Gadget. You and Dale aren't the only ones who can have dreams come true. Mine will just have to wait until the time's right."
       "Good, I'm glad to hear that you have hope again," Gadget said. Chip glanced over at Foxy, but before he looked back to Gadget he also saw Lahwhinie. He shook off the notion and returned his attention to Gadget. "I don't think I ever lost hope - I just looked for it in the wrong place." The music ended, and once again the group gathered around Dale and Gadget. Glasses were passed around, and Chip as best man raised his glass in a toast as the room followed suit.

       On this your day
       We gather to share
       In a special way
       With a lively air
       Your happiness true
       Your dream of love
       Will last for you
       And remain above
       Tough times you may get
       Or storms of life
       So I now heartily toast my favorite
       Husband and wife

       Everyone toasted them, and then Gadget and Dale both came over to thank him. "Wow! That was great, Chip," Dale said.
       "Yes, it means a lot to us, Chip," Gadget added. Chip laughed a little. "It better! It took me long enough to find a rhyme for 'favorite'!" With that, Foxy grabbed Chip's arm. "Come on, Chip. I want to dance with you too."
       Chip turned to Foxy, and the music picked up again. Foxy was wearing a pretty blue bridesmaid's gown, and Chip smiled at her as the music took them across the floor. "I hope you don't mind that I danced so long with Gadget."
       "Not at all, Chip. It's her big day," Foxy said. Chip was glad to be away from the limelight, and began to look around. "So, did you enjoy the ceremony? I never saw such a big gathering of people." Foxy sighed at the thought of it all. "It was magical. I hope I have a wedding this wonderful." Foxy nuzzled his cheek. "With a special, wonderful guy."
       Foxy enjoyed Chip's closeness as they danced, but inside her thoughts had been churning all day. Now she came to a decision and knew she needed to let Chip know. Foxy indicated for Chip to stop, and she asked to go into the vestibule away from the others.
       Foxy took his hands in her wings. "Chip, if you're still willing to help me, I'd like for us to look for my family. I just have to know, one way or another." Chip inwardly gave a word of thanks. "You don't know how glad I am to hear that, Foxy. But what changed your mind?"
       "Just look around at all the happiness in there, all the love! I don't want to miss out on that, and if I have family somewhere, I want to be a part of it…if they'll have me," Foxy said, looking down. Chip tilted her head up and smiled. "They'll have you. There's got to be some of your family out there, and if they're anything like you then you'll have more loving to go around than you can handle." Foxy managed a smile back. "Then maybe I'll at last have you to love me too, forever." Foxy wrapped her wings around him, and he took her face in his hands as they shared a meaningful kiss.

       Chip looked back at the reception area, then to Foxy. "Foxy, I made you a promise while we were on the beach, and I've made my decision..." Before he could answer, Foxy put a wingtip to his lips. "Chip, I release you from that promise. I don't want you to answer because you have to, but because you want to. Let's wait till we find my family, then give me your answer. I want it to be totally from the heart, with nothing else to influence you. But I'll love you no matter what, Chip, whether we find them or not."
       Chip took her wing in his hands. "Thanks, Foxy. I promise you, when the time comes and I know your life's as whole as it can be, you'll get your answer and you'll know it's the right one." Foxy hugged him. "Whatta guy!" Chip separated from her slightly and looked in her eyes. "Here's looking at you, kid." Chip was much relieved - as was Foxy - when they returned to the others.
       Back at the reception, Dale would frequently begin tapping his knife against his glass to prompt the crowd to ask the bride and groom to kiss. Chip chuckled as Dale goaded yet another request from the onlookers. "He always did love the spotlight, despite his nervousness earlier. I suspect that he could have been an actor if he'd studied for it."
       "He is a character," Foxy agreed. Foxy started tapping her knife against her glass, and Dale gave her an appreciative wink before he and Gadget kissed again. Then Foxy put her wing next to her mouth and shouted. "Hey, Gadget! You haven't thrown the bouquet yet!" Tammy ran up near the front. "Oh, yeah! And no fair flying to catch it, Foxy!"
       Eva had been saving the bouquet for her, and Gadget threw it high into the air behind her. A gaggle of girls screamed and fought for position as it came down. A bunch of hands reached for it at the same time, but they fumbled it and it flipped - right into the hands of Lahwhinie, who had been standing nearby off to the side.
       Lahwhinie looked the flowers in her hands. "Oboy, that's just peachy." Gadget came over and hugged her sister. "I hope you'll find the kind of life I have, sis."
       "Well, it could happen," Lahwhinie said, not with much sincerity. Gadget looked back over at Dale. "I think it's about time to wrap things up, hon. The natives are getting restless." Dale whispered into her ear, "Don't worry, if they start trouble, I still have the porta-copter built into this suit." Gadget chuckled, "That's okay, Double-O-Dale. I don't think Dr. So-So or his cronies will be showing up."

       Gadget got everyone's attention and thanked them all kindly for coming. She and Dale got many friendly replies in turn, and lots of hugs and kisses from the well-wishers. The reception was over, and Bianca, organizer that she was, made sure that everyone got out okay and had their travel arrangements made. Gabarah was one of the last to say goodbye to Gadget and Dale.
       "I have said my farewells to Monty Jack and the others. Now I wish to be saying farewell to you both. I know you will be much happy, and your dreams will come true," Gabarah said.
       "They already have. They already have," Dale replied with a note of satisfaction.
       "Golly and a half, Dale's right. It's been everything I could have dreamed of!" Gadget said.
       Gabarah only smiled at them. He kissed Gadget on the cheek, and then shook hands with Dale and left chuckling and showing those pretty teeth of his. He waved goodbye to Chip, Foxy and Lahwhinie and chuckled at them too. Gadget watched him go. "Well, I can understand why dad likes him. He's such a nice guy."
       "But he sure does act strange sometimes," Dale said. "The way he was lookin' at us, you'd think he knows something we don't. Guess maybe it's just the way he is." Monty had returned now with Eva from seeing some of the guests out and Gabarah had spoken something to him in passing.
       "Well mates, looks like ol' Gabarah was impressed with ya. He said if we're ever in the neighborhood we're to be his guests. That's just loike 'im, it is. Wish he could'a stayed around longer, but he said his business would go to pot without 'im," Monty said.
       Dale stopped for a moment to let it all sink in. "Well, I don't know what to say now, Monty. You're my father-in-law now and Eva's my mother-in-law. It's weird having in-laws, but don't worry, Gadget and I will be fine while we're away. I'll treat her like the treasure she is."

       "I vhould expect no less from you, Dale," Eva said, coming over. "And I know you can be trusted. Oh, Gadget! You still have the necklace on. You'd better find Ilsa and get it back to her." Gadget was concerned because most of the guests had already left, but Bianca calmed her alarm and in a few minutes the Râbogas were brought to the reception area.
       Gadget took Ilsa's hands. "Thank you so much for allowing me to wear this family heirloom, grandmother Ilsa. It really meant a lot to me." Gadget started to remove the necklace, but Ilsa held up her hand. Her deliberate, slow style of speech and piercing eyes had a way of drawing everyone's attention.
       "I have been giving the matter further thinking. You may keep the Râboga necklace, Gadget. Besides, it looks better on you than it does on me," Ilsa said. You could hear the gasp from the other Râbogas. This was very unlike Ilsa, and Viktor turned to her with concern in his voice.
       "Ilsa, are you well? You have never let necklace out of sight before in your life!" Viktor said. Ilsa faced her husband. "I know, Viktor, and I am the one who insists on our traditions being upheld. But I am getting old, dahling, and an old lady's vishes are not always honored. The necklace is in the right hands now, and there it vill stay. When I return home, Gadget, I vill send you my history of the Râboga family that goes back for centuries. Then you vill know vhy I am such a stubborn-minded vhoman."
       Gadget's eyes were brimming with tears. She hadn't even met these people before this very day and already they had included her and Lahwhinie in the centuries-old family tree of the Râboga clan. Gadget hugged her grandmother and Ilsa patted the back of her head. "That's right, dahling. I know you have heard ve are a hard people, and ve are. But you remind me of myself at your age. I vhas not always so old, and I too found true love also. Even the old heart knows how to love, my dear, and your tears are as precious to me as the diamonds around your neck. Vear them vell, Gadget, and always remember their special meaning."
       "Thank you, grandmother. I will," Gadget whispered.
       "I know. And now, ve must return home. Bela! Vhere is that son of mine?" Ilsa asked.

       They began to look around, and found that Bela and Monty were at a table engaged in an arm-wrestling match. "I vill be defeating you, father of Gah-jet!" Bela challenged. Monty gritted his teeth as the battle of wills continued. "I don't think so, mate. The last fella ta beat me at armwrasslin' was a 900-pound polar bear, an' he cheated!"
       Bela and Monty strained their bulging biceps, and perspiration poured down as each tried to gain an advantage. Their arms shook with the effort, then fate took a hand. The cleanup crew was almost done, but one young mouse came right by Monty and Bela's table with a heaping plate of...
       Monty leaped up from his seat with Bela dragging behind him, still held firm by Monty's iron grip. Gadget looked on in sympathy. "Sorry! I forgot to mention dad's cheese obsession." Bela on his part was getting the rough end of the trip. "For vhere are ve going?! Please to be stopping, Monterrey! Please to be stopping!"
       Viktor laughed as Monty caught up with the cheese tray, despite the burden he was carrying. "He is much strong mouse. I have never seen anyone able to do that with Bela before. You come from good father, Gadget."
       Gadget watched as Monty reached the gouda and gulped it down. "Yeah, he's the best. I really love him." Cheddarhead and Kate had been talking with nearly everyone in the place, and now joined the small party as Monty walked back over. "Son, you should have left a little fer me! Say, who's yer friend on the floor there?"
       "Oh, that's Bela Râboga, Gadget's uncle," Monty said. Bela got up, and extended his hand. "Pleased to be meeting you.." Cheddarhead gripped his hand with that same iron strength that Monty had. Bela tried to pull away, but Cheddarhead thought he wanted to play tug-of-war and ended up throwing Bela on the floor.
       "Whoops! Sorry about that, lad. Thought you were braced," Cheddarhead said. Viktor looked on with humor. "Gadget, your family is much being like ours. The Râbogas are known for their strength and love of a...good fight." Viktor went over and introduced himself, and the two grandfathers started up a conversation.

       Kate sidled up to Gadget. "Glad we could come, dearie. It's been a wonderful time."
       "Thanks, Kate. I'm glad you could be here for this. My entire family is here, that's made it all so special," Gadget said. Monty began looking around. "Say, we'd better be wrappin' things up. Where's me little pally Zipper?"
       "Uh, I know I saw him with Honey a while back. Wait, there he is!" Dale said. Zipper came in, floating along dreamily with a small lipstick imprint on his face. Gadget pointed at the telltale sign. "Golly, it seems like everyone's been having a good time today. Did Honey enjoy the wedding?"
       "Uh huh..." Zipper said.
       "That's good, she make any important decisions?" Dale asked.
       Zipper nodded. "Uh huh..."
       "And?" the Rangers all asked.
       Zipper smiled widely. "She said that she was giving my proposal serious thought!" Gadget gave Dale a gentle nudge in the ribs. "That's wonderful, Zipper. Now you can sweep her off her... wings!" Dale giggled, and Zipper did too. "Yeah, you're making a real flying leap there!" Dale added.
       "Oh, you two are two silly peas in a pod! I think Honey's beginning to really consider the idea of us as an item, but for it to become anything more she'd have to give up her crown and that's asking a lot. But like I said, she's thinking about it," Zipper said.
       "I'm sure she'll make the right decision," Gadget said. "Happiness and power don't always walk hand in hand." Chip walked back over, joining them. "More often they get into a knock-down drag-out. Well Rangers, I think it's time to go. Beefy's waiting for us at the door."
       Once Dale and Gadget had changed into their traveling clothes, the group headed for the main door of the cathedral where Beefy wished Gadget and Dale well. They returned the sentiment, and then they were outside. The Râbogas left with Bianca after more goodbyes, and then Cheddarhead and Kate did so as well. Chip turned to Dale as they walked to the planes. "Dale, did you and Gadget decide if you were leaving for Washington right away? You could wait until the morning if you wanted and get a fresh start."
       "We decided to head out now. We still have enough energy left to get us there," Dale said. Chip had hoped they'd stay. It was going to be hard enough to see them go as it was, but maybe in light of that it was better this way. The Rangers reached the RangerWing and Plane, where Gadget decided that they should leave the Wing at home and take the Plane since the Wing was easier for the others to handle. The six Rangers, Lahwhinie and Eva stood around, not exactly knowing what to do next.
       Chip moved his foot around in the dirt. "Well, you'd better be going I guess. I'm going to miss you both, and the Rangers won't be the Rangers until you get back." Dale gave everyone a hug and wiped his eyes. "Thanks, pal. I'm gonna miss all of you, and you most of all Scarecrow." Chip couldn't figure out what "Scarecrow" referred to, but then it clicked - Dale was equating this with the goodbye scene in the Wizard of Oz. "Okay, Dale. Just remember, there's no place like home."
       Gadget hugged and kissed everyone. "I'm going to miss you all so much. Don't worry, we'll be fine. We'll call you once we're there and settled in." Monty helped Dale and Gadget with their luggage. "You take good care o' our little girl, mate."
       "Enjoy the start of your life together, dahlings," Eva said. Lahwhinie gave Dale her own special goodbye. "You hurt her and I'll bust your legs." Dale swallowed at her words, but then returned to Chip. "Don't worry, Chip. I'll never forget where home is. Keep a candle burning in the window...uh, we live in a tree, better not. Well, whatever, we'll be back in a couple of weeks. You have the number for the hotel, so you know how to get us if you need us."
       "Right. Have fun, you two," Chip said as he shook Dale's hand. "Goodbye, Dale. Have a great time." Dale and Gadget both blushed at Chip's comment. Dale hugged his friend's neck. "Thanks, pal. It'll be your turn next." Chip blushed in return. "We'll see. Well, what are you two waiting for? Head 'em up!" Dale and Gadget climbed onto the Ranger Plane. Gadget let Dale fly the Plane and he gestured as he started it up. "Next stop, Washington D.C.!" Dale and Gadget waved goodbye to everyone.
       As the RangerPlane rose into the air, a lifetime of thoughts went through Chip Maplewood's mind. He remembered the first time he'd met Dale, the fights they'd had, the fun, the first day they met Gadget, and much more. Now it was all changed. Dale had grown up, and the boy was a man. Chip waved to his friend, watching his face become smaller and smaller.
       **I miss him already.**
       Monty blew his nose into a hanky, and wiped his eyes with his sleeves. "Me pally and me little girl, all grown up. I'm so happy." Eva gently took Monty's arm. "Come, we'd best be getting home."
       In another part of the city, the pleasantries of the wedding were still in their hearts as Zipper escorted Honey home, along with a squadron of drones. They hovered outside the hive, and Honey bid her guards go inside. "It seems we were here like this not that long ago. The prom and the wedding seem like they were only a day apart. Zipper, thank the others again for inviting me. The ceremony was most gratifying and I enjoyed meeting everyone."
       "You're welcome, Honey. Thank you for being a part of it. I hope you're beginning to see the good side of mammals," Zipper said. Honey tapped her finger to her chin. "I must admit, my perspective has been...modified quite a bit. Did you have a good time?"
       Zipper nodded emphatically. "Yeah, but it is strange now that I have to start thinking of some of them as married couples." Honey flew over to a nearby branch and then they both sat down. "As my mother told me once, nothing is stable in our lives - not even a queen's reign. Eventually, change must come."
       "But change can be a good thing, sometimes," Zipper said. Honey hesitated, as if deciding whether she wanted to proceed. "Zipper, I have a decision I need to make. It's not an easy one, and I'm going to need your help making it. I can't discuss it with you yet, but will you be available to come to the hive if I summon you?"
       Zipper stood up and saluted. "I am at your service, my queen." Honey liked his playfulness, but kept her royal airs about her. "Very well. I do not know what the future holds for us, Zipper, but I am glad you are my friend...as well as my love." Honey put her arms around Zipper and gave him a memorable kiss. She pulled away, smiling. "Thank you."
       "Thank you, Honey. I look forward to your summons. Farewell, my love." Honey gave Zipper her queenly wave and flew inside. Zipper proceeded on home, woozy from the kiss. He was surprised to see all the decorations, but he had other things on his mind. The fly turned on the television, flew to the sofa and leaned back. "Things are definitely looking up..."
       Foxy put her wing around Chip, and they piled into the RangerWing. The ride seemed to take forever for Chip, and when they got home they were in for a big surprise. "Hey, someone's put up festoons and all in here! This has the look of Tammy's work on it."
       Zipper looked over at them from the couch. "I thought I'd come to the wrong treehouse at first! Good guess on your part, Chip. Tammy must've let them use her spare key. There's a note on the table." Monty admired the party atmosphere, then picked up the note. It was signed by Tammy and all her friends, wishing Gadget and Dale their congratulations. "We'll haveta be sure ta mention this ta Gadget and Dale," Monty said.
       "Well, might as well get some use from it! Music, maestro!" Chip said. Zipper flipped on the radio, and the couples started dancing under the decorations. Somehow, it softened the blow for Chip, and made him feel better about coming home without his friends.

       As the sun set in the west, the RangerPlane set down at the end of its southerly trek to the nation's capital. The Washington Monarch Hotel was a well-known luxury site for humans and non-humans alike, and only Bianca's clout had managed to get them a room. The hotel had a heliport on top, including a separate one for rodents. Dale allowed a mouse in green coveralls to guide them in, and with Gadget's help he set the RangerPlane down perfectly. A valet emerged promptly and with two assistants moved the Plane to a safe haven while a concierge had two more assistants get their luggage. Then the concierge checked their reservations.
       "If you will be so kind as to follow me, Mr. and Mrs. Oakmont? The elevator is right this way," the concierge said. Dale hopped out. "Yeah, that's us. Thanks pal." Gadget took Dale's arm. "Are you as nervous as I am, Dale?"
       "No, I'm more nervous. But I'd be even worse if you weren't here, if you know what I mean," Dale said. Gadget gave him a quick kiss of encouragement. "I know what you mean, Dale. Don't be afraid, this is just a vacation for the two of us."

       The concierge led the couple to double doors which opened to reveal a huge elevator, with Corinthian leather on the walls. The luggage at their side, the procession headed down to the lobby. When it opened, Gadget and Dale were left breathless. The lobby was all marble-marble floors, marble columns, even a marble-covered check-in area. High above them was a loggia - a balcony where one could stand and have a good view of the city. Dale made a mental note to come back to there when the moonlight would be striking it. Gadget and Dale followed the concierge to check-in, and gave their reservations to the head clerk.
       "Ah, yes. Mr. and Mrs. Oakmont. We've been expecting you. Christopher, see to them. You'll be in the Thomas Jefferson suite," the clerk stated.
       "Golly, thanks," Gadget said.
       "Wow! This place is even better than Motel 6!" Dale said.
       Christopher smiled at the remark, but said nothing. The head bellman was a ferret, dressed in a uniform suit and wearing white gloves. He clapped twice fast, and his assistants came and picked up the luggage and they headed back toward the elevator. "If either of you needs anything, feel free to call the front desk day or night. If you have any questions, I or one of my assistants will be on duty. Is this your first time in our nation's capital?"
       "I was here on a field trip as a kid," Dale said.
       "I've been to the Air and Space museum and the patent office," Gadget added.
       Christopher pointed to the elevator attendant and had him hold one car open for them. "If I might make a recommendation, you'll find the lines for attractions such as shows at the museums much less of a hassle in the early mornings. And the cafeteria at the Space Museum is very good for lunch. Would you care to tour the White House while you are here? Our VIP guests have the open option of the tour."

       Gadget was trying to absorb all of this, and didn't know if she could handle much more. "We'll think about it." Dale was still thinking about the loggia. "Yeah, maybe later." Christopher nodded as the elevator stopped. "That's quite all right. I could tell that neither of you have been to this hotel, so you should know that all your charges have been paid in advance including tips. That's customary practice here, but even our regular customers forget it sometimes. Room service is available 24 hours, and we have three excellent in-house restaurants."
       Dale's eyes got big as saucers. "24-hour room service, everything prepaid?" Gadget took on a warning tone. "Now don't get carried away, Dale. Aunt Bianca paid for it all as a wedding gift for us. She did tell us to enjoy ourselves fully, though."
       "Oh, you two just got married?" Christopher asked. "Congratulations! In that case, I will personally be at your service. Anything you need, just call the desk and ask for me. I'll see to it that you get whatever you like."
       "Chocolate...mmmm..." Dale mused. Gadget tapped him on the shoulder. "Calm yourself, Dale. Remember your diet?" Gadget gave him a kiss. Dale sighed in mock frustration, "You're right, Gadget. I'll just have to suffer with room service and the company of the best wife a guy could have." Christopher chuckled lightly along with Dale as he and the other bellhops led the way down the long plush hallway. Then they stopped at a large solid oak door, and Christopher presented Dale with the key. Dale opened it and was about to run in, when Christopher cleared his throat.
       "What?" Dale asked. Christopher smiled and pointed over to Gadget. "I'm supposed to tip her?" Dale asked again. Christopher was already getting to like Dale. "Not exactly. There's a time-honored tradition that the groom carries the bride over the threshold."
       "Oh yeah! Sorry, Gadget," Dale said picking her up. Gadget chuckled, taking on her role of Maid Marian. "Robin, you're so brave and impetuous!" Gadget giggled as Dale carried her across the threshold. "Oh, so this is Sherwood Forest."
       "Yeah, I guess so. Well, now what're we gonna do?" Dale asked, finishing the line. Christopher and the assistants came in. "Well, your merry men will put away your luggage first. Sherwood Forest comes with all the latest amenities. And again if you need anything, just call on me - I'll answer to Little John, but only to your face."
       Christopher winked at them both. Gadget smiled over at Christopher. "Well, the merry men can take the night off." Dale agreed on that one. "Yeah, don't call us, we'll call you." Christopher saluted, grinning. "Yes sir, Robin!"
       The concierge left, as did the assistants. Gadget grabbed her suitcase. "Well, if you'll keep an eye out for the Sheriff I'm going to freshen up a bit and change into my nightgown." Dale bowed deeply. "Surely, Maid Marian!" Dale kissed her, and Gadget exited the main room.

       The scene shifted to the exterior door, and after a moment or two the door cracked open and Dale poked his head out. "Well, I know I don't speak regular like this to you but I thought I'd say a couple of things. First, don't worry about me and Gadget. Second, don't worry about Chip. I know him as well as anyone can and he's got great times ahead. Hey, he got over the time I poured crazy glue into his fedora and it was stuck there a week, didn't he?"
       Dale paused a moment to laugh at the memory, then started up again. "And third, yeah I know the idea of Gadget and me being together seems strange. Hunh, it seems strange to me! But I've always loved her, even from the first time I saw her. And the more I got to know her, the more I came to appreciate just how wonderful she is. I won't bore you with things you already know, but I just wanted to say thanks for sticking with us. I know you don't get much recognition, so here's to you!"

       Gadget's voice rang out from inside. "Dale, what are you doing at the door? We've got to get up early to get into the Smithsonian. Come on, dear."
       "Coming! Well, I've gotta go. You be good, and I'll see you later!" Dale said. Dale shut the door, and then a few seconds later cracked it back open. "Hey, no fair hanging around! Go on, now!" Dale shut the door again, as the view began to move back down the hall, then stopped.
       Dale's voice sounded from inside a few moments later, "Hey, we got ripped off! This room only has one bed!" A moment later Dale laughed and said, "You shoulda seen your face!" The view in the hall continued to pull away again as the sound of a pillow being whopped on Dale's head was immediately followed by Gadget laughing, then Dale's laughter joined in a moment later.


       When Chip opened his eyes, he saw a point of sunshine hitting at the foot of his bunk. Chip had learned to tell time by where that point came to rest and now it meant that he'd overslept. That didn't surprise him, what with all the excitement and commotion that the wedding had brought. Chip got up, and by instinct looked up to tell Dale it was time for breakfast. Chip frowned a little when he remembered, but sighed and let it pass. He was worried about his friend, and inside really hoped that things had worked out okay for Dale and Gadget. When Chip walked in the kitchen, Monty welcomed him. The Aussie pulled out Chip's breakfast where he'd been keeping it warm.
       "Well mate, how'd ya sleep?" Monty asked. Chip started in on breakfast. "Better than I thought I would, actually. I'm usually up first, but I guess with all that's happened the two extra hours were good for me. Have you heard from Dale or Gadget?"
       Eva walked back in, having heard Chip's voice. "Ve have not heard from our lovebirds since they called last night, Chip dahling." Chip continued eating. "That's not too surprising, but I had to ask." Chip found he was ravenously hungry and quickly finished his plate off. Monty obliged him by bringing some more.
       Chip started in gratefully on the second course. "I think my brain knows what's ahead and is asking for more fuel. I know I haven't discussed this too much, but Foxy and I have decided to take some time off while Dale and Gadget are away and search for her family. It's the least I can do to repay her for what she's done for me."
       "I kin understand that, mate. Family's everythin'. You two have fun," Monty said. Eva came and sat down next to Chip. "What a generous gesture. That would be the most vunderful gift you could give her." Monty took a seat as well. "Yeah, don't worry none. Eva, Zip, Lahwhinie and I'll hold the fort. This'll give Eva and me a bit o' toime ta get reacquainted."
       Chip finished his second helping then his thoughts ran toward a different path. "I know that's going to put a strain on you if any cases come up, but you can also call on Tammy and her friend Rob if you need extra help. I don't expect much anything in the way of crime right now, but we'll let you know where we are in case an emergency breaks out."

       At that moment, Lahwhinie walked in wearing a nightgown that Gadget had loaned her. She looked groggy and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Good morning, Chop." Chip knew she was teasing this time - or at least figured she was - so he decided to ignore it. "Good morning, Lahwhinie. I'm going to be heading out in a little while to look for Foxy's family. I'm sorry I don't have any more time to get acquainted with you right now, but maybe when we get back we can talk."
       Eva had gotten up, so Lahwhinie sat down next to him. "Don't sweat it, sweets. I'll be fine here with mom and pop." Chip found himself getting strangely nervous. "Okay. I just wanted you to know that I wasn't avoiding you or anything because you look like...well, because you resemble you sister." Lahwhinie couldn't resist a little tease. "Or is it because she looks like me?" Chip blushed deep red. "My, look at the time! I...I'd better g..go find Foxy and get ready to go. Go." Lahwhinie chuckled. "Toodles, Chip."
       "Now Lahwhinie luv, be nice," Monty said.

       Chip stuttered and stumbled his way out of the kitchen. It had happened again! He was relieved when he could feel his burning cheeks cooling down. Chip walked through the main room and then went outside where he found Foxy daydreaming.
       "Penny for your thoughts?" Chip asked. Foxy hugged him in welcome. "Just imagining what Gadget must have felt like to get to meet her mom and dad for the first time." Chip patted her on the shoulder. "You'll get to experience that feeling too, Foxy. I'm just sure they're out there somewhere."
       Foxy looked out into the deep blue sky. "I hope they are, but I'm prepared for the worst." Chip gave her a friendly hug, "I've done some preliminary work, and we'll start with the original records on Staten Island. Since your family emigrated from Europe or the British Isles, their names could be there." Foxglove looked at him questioningly. "But how do you know they were from overseas?"
       "I did a little research and found out that you're not a bat that's native to this country. In fact, you're a very rare British variety called Bechstein's bat. I'd thought you had to be pretty unique right off with that pink-magenta color. Anyway, that means that sometime or another your ancestors emigrated over here from England. So unless they came in some real informal manner, there should be some record of them over at the archives at Staten Island," Chip said.
       Foxy looked at Chip with admiration. He never ceased to amaze her. "Oh, I guess that explains why I've never met another bat like me before." Chip nodded, "If you did, they'd almost have to be a relative. I know that one ancestor's name isn't a total answer, but it could be a start anyway. Each piece we can add to the puzzle will bring us closer."
       Foxy suddenly look downtrodden. "But how will they know they're from my family? I don't even know my last name." Chip pounded his fist into his hand in emphasis as he spoke. "They may not, but we've got deduction on our side. There's always a chance, as long as one can think!"
       "I hope so," Foxy said.

       "I'll get my mapcase, and we'll get started," Chip said, hugging her again, then went back inside. He'd had his mapcase packed for over a week now with anything that he thought he might need in terms of knowledge to consult. He slung it around his shoulder, and was almost out the door when the phone rang.
       "I got it!" Monty shouted. Monty picked up the phone. "Rescue Rangers speakin', how can I help ya?"
       "Help! I'm a prisoner in a Chinese laundry!" a familiar voice shouted back. Monty blinked at the joke. "Dale? Is that you, mate? How are you two this mornin'?" Dale laughed, "Just fine, Monty! Sorry about the joke there, but I couldn't resist. This place is great! Gadget and I are being treated like royalty!"
       "That's great ta hear mate. You treatin' me daughter like royalty?" Monty asked.
       "He's good as gold, Monty," Gadget said. "Hi, dad! I'm on the other line. Would you believe this room has three phones in it? Golly, it would have taken me a week to wire that many in at headquarters." Monty grinned - Gadget would mention something like that. "I'm glad ta hear yer aunt Bianca got ya a bonzer room with all the trimmin's. Uh, you two still doin' okay? You know, with this bein' yer first full day...and all."
       Gadget laughed lightly. "Oh, Monty! You're sweet to ask, but like I told you last night everything's fine. We agreed long ago on how we'd handle things, so there's no reason to be concerned."
       "Yeah, everything's cool, pops. You don't have to worry, we're behaving ourselves," Dale added. Monty breathed a sigh of relief. "Good, then I can stop worryin'. Yer mom's here, Gadget, luv. Ya wanna talk to her?"
       "Jeepers, I can hardly wait! Put her on!" Gadget said. "I love you, dad! Thanks for everything!"
       "Yeah, thanks a bunch!" Dale said. Eva rushed to the phone. "Gadget, dahling! How are you and your handsome husband?"
       "We're fine!" they both said.
       "That is vunderful, dahlings! I am so happy that you are having a good time. Are they treating you vell at the hotel?" Eva asked. Gadget's voice was full of enthusiasm. "Oh mom, we're having the best time! Christopher - he's the head bellhop I mentioned last night - he's got us a carriage ride set up in a park near here this evening. And in a bit we're going to see the Air and Space Museum! Golly, it's exciting here!"
       "I am so happy! You two vill be the envy of everyone that sees you. Then I will let you go, so that I may not delay your happiness a moment longer," Eva said. Gadget spoke quickly before she could hang up. "Wait mom! Is Chip there?"
       "Yeah, how's my pal doing?" Dale asked, then added with a note of humorous sarcasm. "Hope he's not talking your heads off!"
       "He is outside vith Foxglove. They are preparing to search for her family, I believe. Monty, dahling, would you be a dahling and get Chip, so that they may speak to him?" Eva asked.
       "No problem, luv." Monty headed out the door and Eva returned her attention to the phone. "Chip has said little since you left, and he even slept late this morning." Dale's reply was full of joviality. "What, the chipmunk alarm clock sleeping late!?! Oh ho ho, I can't wait to talk with him now!"

       While Monty went to get Chip, Lahwhinie grabbed the phone. "Hey, you two! Behave yourselves!"
       "We are, sis. And don't rag on Chip too much, okay?" Gadget asked.
       "Treat my buddy good, Lahwhinie!" Dale added. Lahwhinie felt a tapping from behind. "All right, all right. Wait, here's someone else..." Zipper buzzed over to the receivers. "Hey, you wild and crazy guys!"
       "Zipper!" Gadget exclaimed.
       "Great to hear you Zip! Take care of everyone for us, okay?" Dale asked.
       "Will do, when I'm not out with Honey..." Zipper said.
       "Good luck, Zipper. I hope it works out for you!" Gadget said, and Dale added, "Me too! See ya when we get back!"

       Chip turned on the speaker phone. "How are you two doing?" Dale's reply was positively jubilant. "How are we doing? What came over you to sleep in two extra hours? You haven't missed your self-imposed wake-up time in years!" Chip could already tell things had gone well. "I was worn out from the anticipation of the wedding and all the excitement during and afterward. It was cathartic."
       Then Gadget spoke up. "Oh, don't worry about that, Chip. He's just having fun. But we're both fine and having a great time! Chip, I hope you're able to find Foxy's family. I know that if anyone can do it, you can."
       "Yeah! You're the best detective I know, Chip. Where are you gonna look first?" Dale asked.
       "The Staten Island archives. Foxy's a British bat by heritage, so hopefully we may find a clue to her family there," Chip said.
       "Like I said!" Dale said. "I knew you'd have a plan already. Chip, thanks for everything and you don't have to be concerned about us. It all worked out, and we're about to hit the museums. Make sure to be back by the time we're home - we'll meet you at the rendezvous on Tatooine!" Chip smiled at his Dale's movie reference. "Right, and you better have my money!" Dale's voice took on a mock defensiveness. "Hey, I won your ship fair and share! I promise, she won't get a scratch."
       "Go on, you lovable nut! You two have fun," Chip said.
       "Goodbye, Chip!" Gadget said. "And in case it's a while before we talk again, just remember you're special to me and you always will be."
       "Same here, old friend," Dale said. "If I wasn't here with the most wonderful girl in the universe I'd miss you even more. Goodbye, Chip."

       Chip got choked up a little, but hid it as well as he could. "Bye...Mr. and Mrs. Oakmont..."Chip hung up the phone slowly, not really wanting to let go. When he turned around, his eyes had that glow and sharpness to them that had so long been missing. The determination rose again in his features. Monty saw it, and stopped him with his voice before he headed out the door. "Chip, you all right mate? How do ya feel?" Chip turned his head back to Monty, and a smile broke out. "Good."
       With that, Chip grabbed the doorknob and closed it gently. Monty and the others watched at the window as he helped Foxy into the RangerWing. The morning sun highlighted the couple's features as they rose into the sky. Once they were high enough, Chip pivoted the plane toward Staten Island and the Wing slowly edged its way eastward where it was enveloped by the massive Statue of Liberty and the ball of light rising like a beacon in the distance.

Duncan and Anne Oakmont, Agnes Oakmont, Melanie Oakmont, Lawrence Talbot, Percival Montgomery, Richard Montgomery, Eva Râboga/Evelyn Connors, Ilsa Râboga, Viktor Râboga, Bela Râboga, Renaldo, Chester "Beefy" Lewis, Gabarah and Dr. Anthony Mavel are original creations of Indy and Chris Silva. Bianca, Bernard, Sparky, Hubba Hubba, Shaka Baka, Lahwhinie, Honey, Cheddarhead Charlie, Camembert Kate, Pumbaa and The Rescue Rangers are copyright Disney and used without permission, but with the utmost respect.