The Spy Who Loved Monty
By Indy and Chris Silva

Chapter One - The Pangs of Love

      Monterey Jack had just finished cooking one of his prized cheese creations, when he heard something that grabbed his attention. The big Aussie opened the kitchen door and saw three kids--a mouse, chipmunk and bat playing together in the main room. He smiled a bit, remembering himself at that age. **And what a nipper I was**.
       Monty had been happy when Dale and Foxy had decided after their marriage to adopt children. Little Barbara was a bat of 4 years, and full of joy and talkativeness. When Chip and Gadget married soon after, and saw how happy their comrades were, they adopted as well. Mercy was a precocious girl chipmunk the same age as Barbara, while Alex was a mouse nearing his fifth birthday. Monty loved them all like he was their father, but it made him long for kids of his own. At times like that, he would look off into the distance and seem to be seeing something or someone that only his eyes could find. He was doing that now, when Mercy Maplewood came up and tugged on the bottom of his coat
       "Uncle Monty, Uncle Monty! Tell us a story!" Mercy begged.
       Monty and the children come into the living room, where the kids and one overgrown child named Dale quickly assembled on the floor at Monty’s feet. Monty had full reign on the couch and was starting off recounting yet another well-worn tale. Then the big Aussie had a thought.
       "Did I ever tell you all about the time I saved the world?" Monty asked, a slight glint in his eye.
       "Golly no, Uncle Monty. Tell us!" Alex said.
       Monty enjoyed telling his stories to the kids--they never got tired of them, and often wanted to hear them several times a day. He drew himself up, enjoying the moment "Yep, your ole Uncle Monterey Jack’s been on many an adventure, but none compares to the time I was tourin’ France. It was there that I was called upon to save the world from certain destruction!"
       Dale called the others in, "Hey, Monty’s telling a new story about how he saved the world! Hurry!"
       The others came in and took seats on the couch. Gadget looked at him in a mixture of questioning and skepticism. "You saved the whole world?"
       Monty smiled large. "Sure, the whole world!"
       Chip elbowed Dale lightly. "He probably saved the world’s cheese from going stale..." Dale ignored Chip entirely and crept closer to the sofa. "Wowie-zowie! Tell us! Tell us!"
       Zipper alighted on Monty’s shoulder and agreed with Dale’s request with a "Buzzzz!"
       Gadget picked up Mercy and placed her in her lap. "When did this happen, Monty? I thought we knew all your stories."
       A slight shadow came over Monty’s face. "Well, some stories ain’t as pleasant to remember as others, Gadget-luv."
       Dale was already too curious. "Aw, c’mon! You always tell the best stories!"
       Monty gave melancholy glances at Chip and Gadget and Dale and Foxglove. Then he looked to the vacant seat beside him, longingly.
       "What’s wrong, Monty?" Foxglove asked.
       Monty hesitated for a moment. "Well, there was a price fer savin’ the world."
       Foxglove put a wing on Monty’s shoulder, concerned. "Did...did you have to do something bad?"
       "Monty? No way!" Dale said.
       "Shhh! Let him talk!" Chip said.
       Monty gathered his thoughts. "Well, it wasn’t s’posed to happen the way it did. But yeah, something bad happened. It was all durin’ me time in France..."
       Gadget took his hand. "Did someone hurt you, Monty?"
       Monty cleared his throat. "No, Gadget luv, she didn’t...I mean no one hurt me intentionally."
       Dale was all attention. "She? She who?"
       "Dale, he obviously doesn’t want to tell you!" Chip said.
       Monty ignored Dale’s question. "I’d been recruited fer a mission ta help R.A.S.C.A.L.S. with a secret mission against their enemies, the R.O.D.E.N.T.S."
       "R.A.S.C.A.L.S.? R.O.D.E.N.T.S.?" Gadget asked.
       Monty looked at Gadget in slight surprise. "Surely you’ve ‘eard o’ the two big spy outfits from the 80’s, haven’t ya?" Monty said. "R.O.D.E.N.T.S. stands fer RODent ExterminatioN and Terrorism Squad"
       Dale raised his hand with vigor. "And I know about R.A.S.C.A.L.S.! The Rescue Aid Society Clandestine Agents League! I always wanted to meet one of their secret agents!"
       "Did you really work with spies, Monty?" Chip asked.
       Monty nodded. "Too right I did! If we hadn’t completed our mission, the world would’a been at the mercy ‘o those yahoos!" Monty said.
       Dale’s eyes were wide with amazement. "Wow...who stopped ‘em?" Chip resisted bonking Dale out of interest in the story.
       "I won’t say what we had to do to win…" Monty began.
       Dale cracked a great big smile. "You? You beat the R.O.D.E.N.T.S.? Can you tell us what it was all about?! Huh, can ya? Huh?"
       "I don’t rightly know if I should say anything more, mate. The mission was classified and never revealed to the public. I can tell ya this—it involved something so terrible that if it’d gotten loose it could’ve wiped out the planet!" Monty said.
       Chip leaned back on the couch. "So you saved the world from destruction? Doesn’t sound like much happened, from what you said."
       Monty looked pained. It was obvious that he now regretted starting this story. "Well, Chip, there were other things that happened..."
       Even Chip could see that this was touchy ground. "Is that why you’ve never told us this? The other things?"
       Monty stared off into space. "Well, if things had gone differently, one thing that would be different is that yer old pal Monty wouldn’t be a bachelor."
       Gadget sensed Monty’s discomfort. She’d always been sensitive to his moods. "Maybe we should change the subject. How about cheese?"
       Monty actually grimaced at the mention of cheese. He covered his face with his hands and began to cry. Gadget came over and puts a hand on his shoulder. She looked at the others meaningfully and they left the room. "I’m sorry we upset you, Monty. It’s just us now. Is it something you can tell me?"
       Monty didn’t look up. "No, Gadget luv. There are some things I should just keep to meself. Sorry—I knew this story tellin’ would get me in trouble someday." Gadget knelt down and looked up into his face with that unique kindness that was only hers.
       "I understand, Monty. We’ll leave you alone for a while to collect yourself," Gadget said. Monty gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead, then Gadget softly walked to the kitchen.
       Once he was in the privacy of his own thoughts, Monty went into his room. He walked unsteadily to the far wall and looked around to make sure no one was in sight. Then he stuck his finger into a knothole and pulled, revealing a small secret box made to appear as part of the wall. He opened the lid, and found he couldn’t even look inside. With a trembling hand he reached in and pulled out a golden watchchain, attached to a golden locket. It took him some effort, but Monty managed to open it. On one side was a lock of fiery red hair. On the other side was a miniature painting of a beautiful female chipmunk, smiling and her eyes full of love.
       "Aggie, why did it have to be you?"
       Across town, the Manhattan ferry pulled up to the harbor. Human tourists walked in every direction, admiring the view. Alongside the ferry, no one noticed another boat pulling up--perhaps because it was much smaller. This was part of a fleet of such ships, which ferried a much smaller and more select group. Today, there was only one passenger. Her red hair shone in the light of the sun as the boat touched ashore. A helpful steward saw her off the gangplank and to a nearby subway entrance.
       Instead of taking the human subway, she walked over to a large pipe on the near wall and opened a small door concealing a rodent-sized subway system. Agnes sat down in the subway car, which was actually a mail message tube. The compressed air hit the tube and it swiftly sped into the city. As she emerged again, the chipmunk was washed in the glow of the overhead lights. She was attractive and fit, and looked ten years younger than the thirty-five she was. Her white silk shirt and brown khaki pants combined with leather hiking boots made her the picture of adventure.
       As she proceeded, she entered an underground access tunnel, pausing just long enough to read the words of the sign above her: International Mouse-O-Graphic -- We bring the mouse world to you. She waved to several staff members who instantly recognized her, and deftly made her way through a maze of corridors to the main editor’s office, again hesitating to read a sign: Jeffrey Hill, Chief Editor I-M-G. Then she stepped in and the secretary looked up.
       "Agnes! It’s so good to see you again! How are you?" the secretary asked. She got up, came over and hugged the newcomer. Agnes smiled warmly. "Never better, Miranda! It’s great to be back in the city again. Living in the wilderness of Africa really is a contrast to big city life."
       "I’ll bet it is. Listen, I’ve been poking my ear in this morning and I think Jeff’s got something big in mind this time!" Miranda whispered, poking her thumb toward the adjoining door behind her. Agnes’ eyes sparkled. "Great! It’s been days since my last adventure." Agnes winked knowingly at Miranda and headed for the office door and knocked.
       From inside, a gruff voice boomed, "Miranda, that’d better be opportunity knocking!" Miranda stifled a giggle.
       Agnes cupped her hands and got right up to the door. "That’s ‘Agnes’ Opportunity to you, Jeffrey!" Agnes opened the door and a slightly-graying squirrel looked up in pleased surprise.
       "Agnes Oakmont, get in here! How is my Lady Hemingway?" Jeff asked heartily. The squirrel came over and saluted her hand. Agnes took a seat. "I feel like a lion after a good hunt! You’re looking good, Jeffrey. What’s brought me to town?"
       "A story, what else? And what a story!" Jeff said. Agnes smiled as she watched Jeff pace the room in nervous excitement, something she’d seen him do a thousand times. She took a moment to look around the room--an homage to the magazine they had both worked to make legendary. There were pictures of the greatest stories mounted poster-size on the walls. There were no less than four of those posters from her own past triumphs.
       Jeff walked back up to Agnes impatiently. "Well, don’t just sit there gawking, do what I pay you for! Ask questions!"
       "Sorry, Jeff, lost in the past for a moment," Agnes stood up and took a seat on the corner of his desk. "Enough chit chat. What’s the story that you dragged me from the dust and dirt and grub on a stick in Africa to the endless noise and daylight of New York? Is it travel? Adventure? Thrills? Danger? What will the food be like?"
       Jeff rubbed his hands in anticipation. "You’re gonna love it! Love it!" Agnes smiled knowingly, thinking of all the times she’d heard that one.
       With an effort, Jeff took a seat at his desk, which was cluttered with cover designs. "As you know we’re getting ready to do our 25th anniversary special. Art and the boys have been chewing over idea after idea until someone from copy said, ‘Hey, let’s do some in-depth pieces on the greatest contributors to the magazine!’ Everyone put you at the top of the list!"
       Agnes’ astonishment was obvious on her face. "Greatest contributor? Me? Jeff, I don’t know what to say, I’m flattered….overwhelmed, actually!" Agnes returned to her seat, and Jeff came over and put a friendly arm around Agnes’ shoulder. "Now don’t be modest! Who brought in the Mice of Namibia? The Frozen Mice of Siberia? The story on the Kangaroo rats in Australia? And the exclusive interview with Bianca Râboga, the most famous female member of the R.A.S.?"
       Agnes shrugged her shoulders. "But those were just little things...nothing earth shattering." Jeff flailed his arms. "Little!? Do you call 375 percent upsurges in sales since you’ve come here little? You’re the best thing that’s happened to this old crust of an editor, and it’s time you get your due credit!" Agnes felt elated and nervous at the same time.
       Jeff continued his pitch. "Now listen--we’ve already got most of the layout done. But we know that there’s one story you’ve never told and it would make the single greatest seller I-M-G’s ever had..." Agnes now felt very nervous.
       "What story do you mean?" Agnes said, trying to sound nonchalant.
       Jeff looked at her sidewise. "What story? The story of Percival Alistair Montgomery! ‘The Mouse That Saved The World’!"
       Her nails left deep grooves in the wooden arms of the chair she was sitting in. Agnes now had anxiety creeping into her voice. "How do you know about that? That was classified! No one was ever supposed to know about that!"
       Jeff flipped his hand over in a gesture of emphasis. "Hey, I am the editor of the magazine with the largest circulation in all the animal world! I have contacts. Besides, much of that information is now available to the public--or at least the public that knows how to pull the strings."
       Jeff handed her a folder. She took it, noticing that her hands were trembling. "Maybe…someone else should do this interview. There’s got to be something else..." Jeff got serious at once. "There is no one else, Ace. That’s the dossier on Montgomery. The guy’s a recluse, virtually impossible to get a hold of. You know how painters can be. Well he lives right here in New York! We had no idea, because he’d been assigned an assumed name to avoid publicity. But I’d bet he’d talk to you. After all, you were there!"
       Agnes looked again at the dossier. She opened it and studied its contents—a few photographs, some military records and, attached to the dossier folder by a paper clip, a note with Percival’s current address. She tried to fight the desperation that was clawing to get out. "Is this story that important to you, Jeff?"
       Jeff got up on his arms and leaned over his desk. "Hey, this kind of assignment comes along once in a lifetime! Once! And it falls right in your lap, Ace! We’ve already done the prelims on this in the advertising department, so I’ve got a month’s salary riding on this already. You’ve never let me down....."
       Agnes spoke again, more to herself than to Jeff, "This interview will open many old and painful wounds..." But she saw the incredulity in Jeff’s eyes and sighed. "I’ll do it..."
       Jeff came over and patted her on the shoulder. "Ace, you’re a journalist first--you know as well as I do that means putting your feelings aside for the good of the story. Oh, hold on a minute! There’s someone else I want you to grab for this too. Oh, what’s that name? Miranda, bring in the other file!"
       Miranda came in with a big envelope and Jeff fussed, fumbling with the package. "Where’s my penknife! Oh here Ace, take it! The name and all’s inside anyhow. I think the guy lives across town somewhere. Just get on it, and bring me back another winner!"
       Jeff handed the envelope over to Agnes. Miranda left for a moment and came in with a steaming mug. "Jeff, time for your coffee break! You know you can’t get through the day without it." The editor gladly accepted the mug. "Yeah, this old bushy tail needs a fuel-up. Go on and take both files, Agnes. All the info you need is there." Miranda gave Agnes a "he’s in that mood again" look. Agnes knew it all too well herself, and headed out.
       Agnes took a cab back to her hotel—she’d planned to have a nice evening in town that night, visit some friends, have a real meal for once and sleep in a comfortable bed. The dossier sat there on the car seat, taunting her. Just looking at it ripped open many poorly healed wounds. The events that it recalled were those that drove her to become a restless nomad.
       Once in her hotel room she took a long hot shower. If felt refreshing to finally get the dust and dirt of the Serengeti out of her fur for the first time in years. After her shower, she sat wrapped in a towel, sat on the bed and looked over the dossier. After a while she found she was looking forward to seeing Percival again.
       "Percival...of all the crazy things Jeff would come up with. Well girl, maybe it’s time you faced the music..." As Agnes reached for the dossier, the envelope slipped from under it to the floor.
       "I’d totally forgotten...I wonder who...."
       Agnes opened the envelope and her face went white with terror. If Percival Montgomery was a shock, then the face in the picture staring back at her was shock to the tenth power. Suddenly, she felt trapped like a caged animal, and looked around seemingly for a way out of this nightmare. But there was none, and all she could do was cry. She cried, the tears coming freely as her hand brushed over the picture of a brusque Australian mouse.

Chapter Two - The Loss of Love's Labor

       Gadget had finished working on her latest invention, but all during it her mind never left Monty and his emotional scene. It disturbed her, and she felt the need to talk to someone. She put her tools away and walked into the main room, where all the other Rangers had assembled--she wasn’t the only one in need.
       "Monty’s not one to fall apart like that," Chip was saying to Dale. "He also mentioned ‘she’—the last time a woman had been involved in Monty’s life it nearly ended in disaster for us."
       Gadget started to come into the room, but something held her back. She went to her workshop instead. The events that happened to Monty were evidently traumatic and it seemed Monty had deeply scarred by that mission. That disturbed Gadget enough to make her seek refuge in her own little world.
       Chip had seen Gadget’s turn and came into her workshop. It was obvious their thoughts were running in parallel. "Gadget, did Monty tell you anything before he went to his room?" Gadget started putting her tools away. "I think he wanted to, Chip, but something held him back."
       A noise at the door told them both that Dale was there. "What could be so bad that Monty wouldn’t want to talk about it?"
       "Dale, spy missions often involve a lot of danger—things Monty would prefer to forget," Chip said.
       Foxglove poked her head around the corner too. As always, each of the Rangers preferred the others’ company. "Most of us have no idea what the life of spies is like. I can’t imagine Monty being or doing anything other than he is now."
       Chip’s thoughts turned to a new direction. "And the girl....could that be Desiree?
       Dale shook his head. "Uh, nope. I remember him telling about her. That was after all his solo adventure stuff, or so he told me. Then again, he never told me about that one before."
       Foxy smiled slyly. "Then maybe he has a secret love?"
       "Maybe he lost her during that mission," Chip speculated.
       Foxy hugged Dale to comfort her own feelings. "He saved the world but lost his true love, how sad!"
       Gadget’s look was pure sympathy. "Poor Monty! I guess we’d better not talk about it any more--around him, anyway."
       Dale was lost in thought. "Gosh. I wish there was something we could do for ‘im. I mean, he’s always there for us!"
       Agnes was running, but she didn’t quite know from what. She was dressed in a trenchcoat and beret and the bombs were sounding on the right and left of her. She knew she had to get to safety, but where was it? Then a building emerged from the ground in front of her-she ducked inside. Her breathing was fast and panicked. She looked for a place to hide. Nothing.
       Then a hand touched her shoulder and she screamed. A dark face filled her view and she trembled in fear. Then another face came and two shadows fought each other. The second shadow won and suddenly Agnes caught the scent of roses and cheese. Music came from somewhere and she found herself dancing with the shadow and joy filled her being. Then light struck the shadow and she saw the face of a mouse.
       Agnes’ eyes flew open. The nightmare had haunted her for years, and it always ended the same way. She felt drained, but Agnes knew she would have to face him today-dream or no dream.
       Agnes dressed and gathered together her folders. She found directions to Ranger Headquarters from the hotel concierge. It would be doubly painful for her nephew Dale, his wife and their child. She hadn’t been to see him since before the Rangers were formed and she had missed the wedding and the adoption of his child. She dearly hoped they would be glad to see her.
       Once Agnes was outside, she found the Walmouse Astoria provided carrier pigeon transport service for the brave and adventurous soul. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d ridden on the back of a bird in flight. The wind whipped through her hair, and Agnes enjoyed the feeling. She loved living—she’d mountain climbed in Nepal, surfed on the dangerous tides in Australia, and lived in almost every primitive condition. She never tired of the thrill, and loved to be around those who shared her pursuits.
       The pigeon descended and set down at the corner of a sidewalk, a block away from the park. Agnes began a brisk walk, and as she approached the next corner she saw a group of onlookers were gathered around someone. It was a mime, in the middle of the classic "trapped in the box" routine. Agnes stopped, smiling immediately. She’d always enjoyed the street mimes in Paris, and seeing one now was one of the few good memories she had of her time there.
       The mime completed his task and then noticed Agnes. She was hard not to notice with her appearance and distinctive clothes. The mime came over and bowed low to her, and showed her to an invisible table.
       "Ah, merci monsieur!" Agnes said. She had enough of a French accent to stand out when she used the romance language. The mime brought over a "bottle" of wine and "popped" the cork. Agnes enjoyed the game. Then the mime did something unexpected.
       He produced a red rose and gave it to her. It happened so fast, that Agnes had no time to warn the well-meaning soul. He’d put the rose to her nose to sniff it, and when she did, her smile left her face. Her eyes stared into space and it seemed she could hear music. She closed the gap between herself and the mime, put the rose between her teeth and held out her arms.
       The mime thought it was part of the game, and took Agnes in his arms. They began to dance the tango, and the crowd clapped as they danced first one way then the other. Then the mime wanted to finish up, but Agnes wouldn’t let him go! He noticed the blank look on her face and began to get worried. He waved his hand in front of her face, but she didn’t blink. He tried to pull away, but her grip was too strong. The crowd began to titter, then laughed openly.
       They’d been dancing for a good five minutes when the mime finally thought to gently pat her on the cheeks. When he did, the rose fell from her mouth and Agnes snapped out of it.
       "What, what happened?" Agnes said. The mime repeated the looks on her face he’d seen. "Oh, no!" she cried. "Not that again! I am so sorry."
       The mime smiled and bowed, but still looked a bit curiously at her. She shrugged her shoulders. "C’est la guerre, monsieur," she replied. Agnes realized the crowd was still watching them, and she felt embarrassed and made as quick a departure as she could.
       As she approached the park, she saw the large oak tree she’d been told to look for. Suddenly, Agnes found herself hesitating—something she almost never did—and stopped behind a bush.
       "Hello,’s nice, no! Dale, my C’mon Agnes! He’s going to be thrilled to see you—I hope. But what if he’s there? I don’t know that I can take it if he’s there too..."
       At that moment, a female squirrel came into view, holding the wing a young bat as they walked. Agnes gasped.
       " must be. She’s so cute..."
       Agnes climbed a neighboring tree and pulled out the field glasses she kept in her pack. Tammy went up to the main door and the interior was in plain view.
       "He’s not there--good. It’s now or never..."
       Inside, Chip was still discussing the problem with Monty. "I really don’t think there’s much we can do for him, at least for now! If she’s gone there’s nothing we can do, but if she and Monty parted company we still might be able to track her down."
       Dale suddenly had a thought. "Hey! Why don’t we help him get a new girlfriend!"
       Gadget hesitated at the idea. "Well, I don’t know if it’s that easy. You don’t just fall in love that quickly."
       Foxglove giggled and snuggled against Dale. "I did."
       Dale thought a bit, then raised a hand. "I know who’d be perfect for him! My Aunt Agnes!"
       Gadget had a look of doubt on her face. Dale wasn’t known as the greatest matchmaker on earth. "Agnes? Doesn’t sound like a name he’d like..."
       Dale laughed softly. "If you’d seen her, you wouldn’t say that! She’s a knockout--right, Chip?"
       Chip smiled and his mind drifted back to his childhood years. Agnes was a knockout, that was for certain. He’d had the biggest crush on her when he was younger, sort of the way Tammy had felt about him. "Yeah, she’s a knockout and she lives for adventure the way Monty does."
       Tammy had joined the group now, Barbara in tow. "Oh, she sounds great! I’d really like to meet her!" Dale’s countenance turned a bit sad. "But, who knows where she is now? Haven’t heard from her in ages and she never replied to any of the letters I sent out the last couple of years! Sure would be nice to see her again, so she could meet Foxy and Barbara, anyway."
       There was a knock on the door, and everyone turned to look. Dale approached the door, turning back to the others. "Wouldn’t that be funny if it was Aunt Agnes at the door?" Dale answered the door and gasped in total surprise.
       "Aunt Agnes!"
       Agnes stood there a moment, not knowing what to do. Nor did the Rangers for that matter. Dale rushed to her and hugged her hard. "Wow, talk about timing! It’s great to see ya!"
       With that welcome, the nervousness left her and Agnes kissed Dale on both cheeks, in the French fashion. Dale blushed. "Ah, and it is wonderful to see you again, my nez cerise!"
       Gadget found that she immediately liked this person. "Golly, are you French?"
       Agnes shook her head lightly. "No, my dear. I spent a few of my early years in France and just got back from Algeria, so the accent hangs over..." Then Agnes spied Chip, who was blushing already. She walked boldly over to him and kissed his cheeks too, then leaned in close with a sultry voice she loved to tease him with. "And how is my little Guilleret?"
       Chip was so nervous he couldn’t even speak. She was even more beautiful than she had been the last time he saw her! Then he glanced over at Gadget and was reminded that he was a married man. With that reality check, he calmed down and smiled, still a little nervously. "Ag...Agnes, it’s great to see you again! We’ve all really missed you over the years."
       Gadget and Foxglove were giggling. "Golly, Chip! I’ve never seen you at a loss for words!" Gadget said. Tammy was already going into hero-worship mode. "Uh, ma’am? What did you call them?"
       Agnes turned and found herself face to face with the teenaged squirrel she’d seen before. "Please, no ma’am’s here! Now let me’re Tammy, the neighbor and nanny to the kids right?"
       Tammy was surprised and thrilled. "Why, yes! But how did you know?"
       "Dale has written to me about you...about all of you! I feel I know this place so well...but the names. They are French--nez cerise is ‘cherry nose’ and Guilleret is ‘Chipper’," Agnes said.
       Tammy was overjoyed at the last bit of information and ran to Chip, batting her eyes and trying to imitate Agnes’ accent. "Do you like that name, Guilleret?" Chip blushed yet again. Tammy’s crush on him had long since been over, but she still enjoyed reminding him of it.
       Dale and Foxglove started giggling anew, and Gadget politely hid her own with a hand over her mouth. Dale grabbed Agnes’ hand. "C’mon over to the couch and tell us all about your adventures!"
       As they all sat down, Dale looked over to Tammy. "Tammy, could you go get Barbara? I want Aunt Agnes to meet her new grandniece!" Tammy rushed out of the room, and Dale proudly stood up and took Foxglove’s wing. "Aunt Agnes, meet my beautiful wife Foxglove."
       Foxy gave a shy, "Hello, Ms. Oakmont."
       Agnes came over and hugged her on the neck. "Call me Agnes, Foxglove! Dale has told me so much about you in the letters he has written. He is very blessed to have married such a treasure as you."
       Shortly, Tammy came back into the room escorting three children. Tammy guided Alex and Mercy to Chip and Gadget, and then led Barbara over to Agnes. Dale was in an ecstatic mood. "Great! This is the whole gang! Aunt Agnes, may we proudly present your grandniece, Barbara Oakmont."
       The little bat looked up at Agnes and held out her wings to her. Agnes’ eyes filled with tears. Foxglove looked concerned. "Agnes, what’s wrong?"
       Agnes found herself choked up. "I’m sorry, it’s just that after saying so many good-byes to relatives when I would have to leave for assignments, it’s nice to be able to say hello to an Oakmont for a change!" Dale put a comforting hand on her shoulder. Agnes wiped her eyes and composed herself.
       Agnes picked up Barbara and hugged her, then put her down and followed through with hugs for Dale and Foxglove. "Dale, I’m sorry I missed out on all of this...and you. I should have been there for you through all of this—your childhood, your adulthood, the Rescue Rangers, the wedding…and Barbara. Can you both forgive me?"
       Dale gave that good-natured smile he was so well-known for. "Aunt Agnes, you’re here now. That’s all I could ever ask for!" Foxglove hugged Agnes. "Dale’s right, there’s nothing to forgive!"
       Agnes then turned her attention to the youngest member of the Oakmont family. "Barbara, dear little one. Can you forgive Aunt Agnes for not coming to meet you sooner?"
       Barbara smiled and Agnes could see the wheels spinning in the little girl's mind. "If you p'omise to tell me a story, it would help!"
       Agnes picked her up and looked her over approvingly. "Well then! I will tell you many, many stories to make up for all the time I've missed."
       "Oh, goodieness!" Barbara hugged her tightly. Agnes hugged her tightly in return. She had been away from her family so long she forgot how wonderful it felt being with them again.
       Agnes then looked over at Chip, Gadget and their children. "Chip, I’m sorry. I didn’t get to meet your lovely wife." Gadget brought the kids over. "Golly, that’s okay, Agnes. Dale and Foxglove are certainly thrilled to see you. I’m Gadget Hackwrench, I mean was Gadget Hackwrench, now I’m Gadget Hackwrench-Maplewood. It sure is neat to meet you! These are our children, Alex and Mercy," Gadget said.
       Agnes leaned down and offered her hand to Mercy, who took it cautiously. "Your name sounds like the French word for ‘thank you.’ Are you polite, Mercy?" Mercy thought for a moment. "Only when I wanna be," she said matter-of-factly. Everyone got a good laugh out of that.
       The children all stood hesitantly in front of Agnes, and she smiled warmly back at them. "Auntie Agnes, we want...we want to know what Af’ca is like!" Barbara said.
       "Yes, tell us ‘bout the animals!" Alex added.
       "No, ‘bout the tribes!" Mercy said.
       Agnes loved being the center of attention. "Patience little ones, there is time for all those things. I haven’t even gotten to meet you all yet." She smiled at Alex and Mercy.
       "Alex and Mercy—what wonderful names! And Alex, so handsome and Mercy so pretty," Agnes said, as only a relative can. Alex crossed his arms and backed up a bit as all boys do at that age
       Mercy didn’t say anything at first, but finally she quietly asked, "You think I’m purty, Ms. Oakmont?"
       "So much so, just like your mama. But please, you may call me ‘Aunt Agnes’ like your father does. He is like family too me, as I may hope that I may be like family to you as well," Agnes said.
       "Okay, Aunt Agnes..." Mercy said noncommittally.
       Barbara tugged at Agnes’ shirt. "Auntie Agnes! Auntie Agnes! I gotta question!"
       Agnes hugged the cute little bat sitting on her lap. "What is it, little one?"
       "Do they have cannonballs in Af’ca?" Barbara asked.
       Foxy giggled a bit. "Oh, sweetie! Not cannonballs. Cannibals! But who’s been telling you about them?" She looked over to Dale, who gave her an innocent grin.
       Agnes laughed kindly at Barbara’s mistake. "Well, there are a few ‘cannibals’ on the continent, but very rare. Most of the native people of Africa are wonderful, friendly people."
       Alex’s curiosity won out and he approached Agnes again. "Did you ever see a lion?" Agnes grinned at Alex. "Yes, Alex, I have seen many lions. A noble people. I even got to ride on the back of lion during the hunt. Fortunately, my relative small size made me unattractive as a meal so I could walk freely among them as I interviewed them."
       Alex’s interest was really up and he climbed up next to her. "Wow, you rode one? And you talked to them? What are they like?"
       "They can be great fearsome beasts when they want to. Their roar is awe- inspiring, not to mention deafening. Their lives are hard and brutal. They tend to be a little full of themselves, but they do earn the title of ‘King of the Beasts’. For there is none other quite like them. Does that answer your questions, Alex?"
       Agnes gave him a kiss on the cheek. Alex jumped off the couch, rubbing the offended area. "Yecch! She’s one o’ those kissy types!"
       All the grown-ups laughed at the reaction, particularly the guys, since they’d been there before. Gadget caught Alex’s attention. "Alex, you’re forgetting something..." Alex looked at his hands, but he’d washed them. Then he looked to his mother as she mouthed two words. "Oh. Thank you, Aunt Agnes."
       Agnes giggled. "You are very welcome, Alex." Agnes looked at the children and then at Chip and she smiled yet more. "Chipper, it has been such a long time. It seems like only yesterday I was changing your diapers and now you have little ones of your own."
       Gadget giggled again despite herself. Chip blushed again. Gadget decided to bail him out. "Dale’s told us a little about you and your career, but I’d like to know more. How did you get started?"
       Agnes took a seat again along with the others. She closed her eyes a moment and let the memories flow to the surface. "My mother always said I was a dreamer and she was right. Whatever I dreamed, I wrote down and soon I was known for being a good writer. When I was fourteen, I won a contest to become a junior correspondent with International Mouse-O-Graphic."
       Gadget could see why she liked Agnes. They both were prodigies. "At fourteen? What an honor!"
       Agnes took a cup of herbal tea that Tammy brought in from the kitchen. She sipped it and continued. "Chip and Dale could tell you the stir it caused in the family. My parents were against it at first, since it meant I would be leaving the country for some time to cover stories around the globe. That’s where Jeff Hill stepped in. He’d just taken over as editor of I-M-G and he convinced my parents that I’d be chaperoned the whole time."
       Foxy was caught up in the story at once. "What all did you see?"
       Agnes chuckled. "What didn’t I see? Bullfights in Pamplona, the struggle to live in the Arctic…then came my assignment to Nairobi, Kenya and the native mice there. I grew very attached to them and it showed in my writing. I won an Ace Award for that story and gained the label of "Lady Hemingway" from my peers.
       Tammy sighed, "Woooooooow……"
       Agnes smiled in kind. "But it wasn’t all fun and games. By the time I was twenty, I was starting to burn out as a columnist. I needed a change, and Jeffrey got me a job as a storyliner with the Rescue Aid Society. It was just what I needed—the travel was still there, but now the stories were more strictly mouse-interest. I soon found myself volunteering for missions."
       Chip found himself becoming rapt up in the telling. "You never mentioned that before! Were they dangerous?"
       Agnes took a breath and when she began again her voice took on a slight edge. "Some of them. Some of them were very dangerous—but I found I enjoyed it. Then the R.A.S.C.A.L.S. asked me to join them."
       "And you’d been writing all that time? How come I’ve never seen a book written by you?" Gadget asked.
       A shade passed over the beautiful chipmunk’s face. "It is not for lack of trying, my dear. It seems incroyable, but I never could get an idea together! I have many stories I have yet to use, but none of them ever fell into a book form."
       Dale’s eyes were filled with wonder. "Aunt Agnes is a SPY?! COOL!?"
       Agnes fidgeted a bit. The Rangers sensed the same discomfort they’d seen in Monty earlier. "Oh, now do not get the ideas of the James Bond type, Dale. I was only with them for around a year or two. In fact, the most notable thing I carry from that time is a reaction I have to..roses."
       Gadget tilted her head. "Roses?" Agnes sighed lightly. "Yes. The Brie region of France is famous for two things-its roses and its cheese. Ever since that time, whenever I smell a rose I, uh, dance."
       "Dance?!" the Rangers said.
       Agnes blushed a bit. "I know, it is a strange thing. But something comes over me now when I smell them. I start dancing the tango! It has gotten me into trouble a few times."
       "What happened?" Dale asked.
       Agnes put down her cup of tea and thought back, chuckling a bit. "One time Jeffrey gave me a bouquet of roses to thank me for a great job I’d done and I ended up dancing the tango with him for four hours nonstop in the newsroom until someone finally removed them!"
       Gadget smiled along with her. "Golly, it’s funny you should say that. Our friend Monty has a strange reaction to cheese. Especially Brie, it’s his all time favorite cheese. Sometimes he’ll just wax poetic over Brie, talking about its color, texture and smell. He goes into an eating binge whenever he smells it. As you can imagine, it’s gotten us into lots of trouble, too. Say, where is Monty? You’d like him, he’s a lot like you."
       Agnes suddenly tensed up. "I....I do not think so my dear." Dale looked troubled. "What’s wrong, why don’t you want to meet Monty?" Agnes got a worried look on her face, as if she were trying to make a decision. Then she did. "Dale, I feel so ashamed! But...I could not tell you why I never visited!"
       The Rangers started to get up in alarm. Agnes held up her hand. "No! No, I must tell this--it has been a burden on my soul for too long and besides you deserve to know, since you are all his friends. But you must all promise me not to tell Monzy...."
       Dale looked confused. "Huh? Why not?"
       Chip got up and took Agnes’ hand. "Aunt Agnes, what are you talking about? Did something happen between you and Monty?"
       Agnes got up and hugged the two boys, then sat back down. Gadget brought her a handkerchief and she dried her eyes. "This happened back in ‘82—the last year that R.O.D.E.N.T.S. was in official operation. I was on a mission with the R.A.S.C.A.L.S.—it was supposedly an R.A.S. relief mission to some mice in the region of northern France. But in truth, we were charged with a duty most delicate and important."
       Chip looked deep in thought for a few moments, then he snapped his fingers "Aunt Agnes, would this have anything to do with the terrible danger that could have destroyed the world? The mission that Monty was a part of?"
       Agnes started at Chip’s mention of the mission. Could they have been pretending for her all along? "He told you? Did he tell you about me?"
       "Would you believe he told us about this less than three hours ago? He uttered ‘she’ once and changed the subject. What happened?" Chip asked.
       "Yeah, he’s really busted up over what happened there," Dale added.
       Foxglove still had that idea in her mind. "Were you two in love?"
       Agnes sighed and began again. "For a time, we were. It was a difficult time for both of us, I suppose—missions are like that. Though he had a better outcome than I did. Very well, I will tell it from my side. My group was to rendezvous with a contact arranged by the R.A.S.C.A.L.S. and receive a top secret item that had been recovered by one of our operatives. The contact was Monzy—oh, he was gallant! We were like two children together in a paradise--if you can call an old cheese factory paradise."
       Dale could not have been more surprised. Monty and his Aunt Agnes? It was amazing! "But what happened, Aunt Agnes? We didn’t you two stay together?"
       "My group and Monzy were there several days due to enemy agents trying to track us down before we could safely leave for Paris," Agnes started, then she paused a moment--memories began forcing their way up. "We danced, we drank wine and ate of the finest cheese Brie had to offer. We made plans for the future and exchanged momentos."
       Dale’s jaw dropped. "Zowie!" Gadget was all attention, as was everyone else. "Golly! Why didn’t you get married?" Foxy giggled a little. "Dale, if she’d married Monty, that would have made him ‘Uncle’ Monty!" The tears started to flow again, and Chip and Dale came over to comfort Agnes. "Thank you, mes petits!" Agnes said.
       "What did happen, Aunt Agnes?" Chip asked.
       Agnes stared off into space and the sound of bombs filled her mind. Her voice changed from its usual vibrance, almost going flat. "It was the morning of the second day at the warehouse. Our group leader—he called himself Ramrod—went to check on Monty who was watching out for any sign of trouble in another part of the building. Then it happened! Bombs struck the warehouse and in a matter of seconds the entire building was rubble! It took me hours, but I struggled out with the help of Percival, the other member of my group. I could find no trace of either Ramrod or Monzy....that is until two months later…"
       The sadness in her eyes was truly pitiful to see. "I had gone to Paris in hopes that he would be there, looking for me. Then I....I picked up the Mouse du Monde--the mouse newspaper of Paris. In the personaux section there was a picture of Monzy and a girl named Desiree! It was their wedding announcement."
       Agnes had to stop a moment to recover herself. "When I saw that, my poor heart could not take it—I had lost him to another! And so I returned home to the states. I am so sorry, my dear Dale! I should not have let it fester so long but I could not bear to have this wound on my soul bared, even as it is now...."
       Dale suddenly realized how great a misunderstanding had formed. "But, Aunt Agnes, Monty never..."
       At that moment, Monty entered headquarters. His arms were full of groceries. "Boy, those grocers buy the worst brands ‘o cheese they can find! It seems a mouse can’t raid mouse traps these days without......" Two pairs of eyes locked as Agnes turned to see the voice she remembered so well.
        Agnes could only whisper. "Monzy...."
       Monty dropped the groceries, stunned. "Great gallopin’ gouda! Agnes, luv!" he managed. Agnes tried to make it to her feet once, and failed. Chip came and helped her, and she forced her mouth to work. " is good to see you again. But where is your wife Desiree?"
       Monty was all confusion. "Desiree? But Agnes luv, we were never married!"
       Agnes’ eyes grow large as the words reached her brain. Suddenly the room spun and she fainted. Dale managed to catch her before she hit the floor and with Chip’s help they moved her to the couch. Monty was caught in his tracks, and a strange feeling began to stir in him.
       "I’ll get some water!" Gadget said, running for the kitchen. "Is she okay?" Tammy asked. She took the children out of the room to avoid any more confusion than was necessary. "Yeah, she’s okay. She just fainted," Dale said.
       Gadget ran back from the kitchen and poured water on her face. Agnes awoke, muttering. "What...what did you say, Monzy?"
       Monty hesitantly approached the couch, as if he were facing a judge. "Agnes luv, I said I never married Desiree. I sorta left her at the altar. Just as well, seein’ as how she was a bad apple to begin with."
       The adrenaline kicked in and Agnes jumped up in an amazing show of will and kissed Monty amorously.
       "Golly......" Gadget said. Tammy had come back just in time to see the wondrous leap. "Wooooooow......." Tammy said, soaking it all in.
       Monty melted in her arms for a moment, then he quickly disengaged himself from her and backed away. The look in his eyes was pitiful. "Forgive me, Agnes!" Agnes was in pure happiness. "Forgive you, my love? Of course! Now we can...." She reached for him. Monty backed away more, the hurt coursing through him. "It was all my fault, it was all my fault!"
       Concern was written all over her face. "What is it, mon petit chou?"
       Monty turned his face away at first, but Agnes pulled it back toward her. "Don’t be afraid," Agnes said. "You can tell me."
       "I’ll try, Aggie..." Monty was shaking with the duty of telling something he never thought he would. He managed to find the couch. "It was that last full day at Brie. We’d had such a fine time that last night, but when Ramrod came ta me the building was bombed. Everything was falling down ‘round me ears an’ I saw Ramrod jump for an empty cheese box. He made it lass, but then...but then...."
       Agnes shared his nervousness, but did what she could to console him. "Go on..."
       "Another bomb hit, and a fire started! I could hear ‘im callin’ for help but...but....I couldn’t reach him!" Monty said in despair.
       Agnes was shocked. "He’s dead? Ramrod is dead?! I couldn’t find either of you and...."
       Monty put his hands over his head. "He’s dead and I should’ve been able to save him! I should’ve! I should’ve!" Monty was suddenly overcome by the guilt and ran into his room and locked it before Agnes could get there. She banged on the door, the tears coming.
       "Monzy, please open the door for me. Why do you run?" Agnes pleaded.
       Monty answered from inside, "Go away! I’m no good! Just go!"
       The Rangers stood by Agnes, amazed at the turn of events and not knowing what to do. Agnes banged on the door again. "But Monzy, we have been apart for so long, why must we be apart another second longer?"
       Monty was crying now. "I can’t stand it! Go, please!" Agnes’ voice took on the desperation her heart felt. "But Monzy, don’t send me away! I can’t bear it..." Monty yelled from inside, "Don’t you understand? I betrayed you! I betrayed you!" Monty began sobbing.
       Agnes didn’t understand this reaction at all. "Monzy, you tried to save him! I’m sure you tried your best. I forgive you!"
       "No, you can’t! You can’t! I’m lower than a snake!" Monty replied.
       Gadget came over and put a hand on Agnes’ shoulder. "Agnes, maybe he just needs some time. After all, this has been a shock..." Agnes looked downhearted, but agreed. "I will go. There is another I need to speak to about what happened in Brie. Perhaps he can give me answers and explain what troubles Monty so much."
       Chip hugged Agnes again. "Don’t worry, Aunt Agnes. We’ll talk to Monty while you’re gone. I can’t believe he’d betray you!" Dale joined the hug. "Chip’s right. Monty is one hundred percent true blue!"
       Agnes looked back to the door. "I pray you are right, mes petits. I pray you are right." Agnes took one more look back toward Monty’s room. Then she left, her tears still flowing. Monty was still sobbing in his room
       "I betrayed you...I betrayed you......"

Chapter Three - Memory's Betrayal

       As she left Ranger Headquarters, Monty’s words were still echoing in Agnes’ mind. Could he have really done something wrong? Had she misread him? After all, they had only been together that short time
       "No! I know his heart as well as my own," Agnes said out loud. "Something is holding him back, and there is mais one mouse who would know what it is."
       With that, Agnes strode off in the direction of New York. She was so intent on her purpose that at first she didn’t even notice the shadowy figure following her. When she crossed the street, she felt someone staring, and wondered if Monty had come to make up. She turned in time to see an animal dressed in a trenchcoat dart behind a large bush.
       Agnes Oakmont was many things, but a fool wasn’t one of them. Her training with the R.A.S.C.A.L.S. had been rigorous, but she since had found many occasions to thank them for it. One thing they had engrained in her was that if your instincts said you were in danger, they were usually right. So when she finished crossing the street, she ran down the block and turned the corner. The follower had to wait for traffic to clear, then ran as well. At the corner, a pair of eyes looked left and right. Two feet chose left, walking slowly. Then from out of nowhere a hand came down on the mysterious person’s neck and the animal went down hard
       Jeff put his hands up in surrender. "Whoa! Help!"
       Agnes was ready to deliver another blow when she recognized her editor. "Jeffrey? Oh, pardon mon ami! I thought you were a stalker!" She helped him to his feet. "What did you think you were doing?"
       Jeff dusted himself off. "Good gravy, Agnes! I was just worried about you. I felt bad about how upset you were with this story, so I just wanted to if you were all right."
       Agnes’ face softened. "Ah, so you do care. Well, at least your heart is in the right place. Now run along, Jeffrey. I am a big girl now."
       "Are you sure, Agnes? You’re the best reporter I have—I don’t want anything to happen to you," Jeff said.
       Agnes laughed out loud. "Jeffrey, I have known you for 20 years and you’re still the crankiest, most high-strung, best friend I have!" She hugged Jeffrey hard. "I’ll be okay, mon ami. I have to catch up on things with an old friend."
       Jeff was flustered by her display of affection "Well, just make sure nothing happens to you. You’ve got an award-winning feature story to write! If you need help, just let me know. The magazine will do anything for its number one reporter."
       Agnes winked at him. "You can’t fool me, you old squirrel! You just want that second Ace Award. I’ll give Percival your regards."
       Jeff cleared his throat, tugged at his collar and his face took on a practiced grumpy expression. "Yes, well, good-bye and good luck, Agnes. Remember what we’re paying you for!"

Chapter Four - Old Friends, Old Enemies

       Agnes smiled again and waved farewell. As she strolled, her thoughts returned to Percival. It had been many years since she’d seen him, and she never thought she would again. The journey took her into New York’s historic district, and made her wish she had time to sightsee. She had taken Percival’s address out of the dossier folder and now rechecked it.
       When Percival Alistair Montgomery had come home, he’d received much acclaim for his heroics as an agent. He’d resisted the limelight as much as possible, and when R.A.S.C.A.L.S. had asked him to take over as head of the organization he’d refused them flatly. Percival was a painter first, not a soldier, as he’d told them. All he asked was for solitude and the chance to paint. He’d been granted both, and his paintings of scenes from his missions brought top dollar among the collectors of the world.
       Agnes was reflecting on these things as she found the home Percival now called his own. It was a human dwelling known as the Tierney House—a Victorian structure built in the 1890’s. The white exterior of the house did not reveal the craftsmanship of the elegant interior. The house was on New York’s tour of homes, and received many visitors. However, the most unique portion of the Tierney House was the turret built into the left front portion of the house, which was off-limits to the tourists’ curious eyes. If a curious tourist had ventured up the ornate oaken stairway, they would have met with a sight far surpassing any other in the home.
       Twelve large windows let more than sufficient light in the small room at the garret’s top—small by human standards, that is. For a mouse, the room was more than sufficient for living quarters, an art studio and spacious storage area. Agnes was looking up at the high garret now, and wondering how she should get up there when she noticed a mouse in a butler’s outfit leave the building on the side wall of the garret. She found the concealed entrance easily enough, which led to a dumbwaiter, likely forgotten by the city which maintained the old structure.
       Agnes reached the top and found a mouse-sized mahogany door preventing her passage. "Well, back into the past again. C’est la guerre." Agnes knocked on the door.
       Inside the large apartment, a pair of bushy eyebrows raised. A somewhat deep male voice muttered something in a bothered British tone and then the chipmunk put down the paintbrush he was using and made his way across the room. A small window in the door opened. The eyebrows frowned as they saw who it was.
       "I am not interested in anything you might be selling. Leave me to my privacy," the chipmunk said.
       Agnes took on a sarcastic tone. "It’s good to see you too, Percival."
       The eyebrows shifted up. "That voice...I know it." Percival’s eyes suddenly were pulled to a wall in his apartment "It’s you! Come, come quickly!" Percival opened the door.
       Agnes walked into the room. She smiled warmly at Percival. "It’s wonderful to see you again Percy. I’m sorry to intrude on your solitude. Can you forgive me, old friend?"
       Agnes remembered Percival with that gruff yet friendly demeanor of his. The artist was dressed in a purple dressing-gown and slippers. The chipmunk’s dark eyebrows and moustache still provided the same striking contrast she’d seen years ago.
       Percival saluted her hand. "I would forgive no one but you, Miss Agnes. But you I forgive with my full heart. What brings you here?"
       Percival showed Agnes to a chair--the only empty one in the studio which they’d just entered. The walls were covered in oils and acrylics, and stands held several more paintings, including one that was obviously Percival’s latest work. It was a female chipmunk with red hair, sitting on a grey stone wall. She was writing in a notepad.
       Agnes was startled to see the painting of herself. It was remarkably good, considering Percy hadn’t seen her for about fifteen years. "Percival, that’s an amazing picture! Did you do it entirely from memory? It’s a very flattering likeness."
       "Yes, Miss Agnes. This is fortunate, because I’d forgotten the shade of green those lovely eyes of yours possess." Percival went to his canvas and looked back at Agnes, still sitting.
       Percival selected the colors with a trained eye. "2/3 prussian blue, 1/4 cadmium yellow, and a touch of violet...." Soon the eyes in the painting matched Agnes’ perfectly. Percival stood back, admiring the scene. "I remember that day so well. We three called it ‘the perfect day’--and in some ways it’s been the only one. But enough of that. You obviously have a mission. Not another global terrorism organization planning to do us in, I trust? Or did you come sip tea and reminisce with an old friend?"
       She looked from the painting to Percival, the memory it dredged up causing her smile to fade. "Percival, I wish it could be for more pleasant reasons, but unfortunately ‘Operation Immunity’ is about to be de-classified and somehow my editor-in-chief found out about it. He asked me to get the complete story from all its surviving members. You, me...and Monzy."
       "Monty?! That old bruiser made it out, then? How is the old chap?" Percival asked.
       Agnes looked pained, remembering how she’d left him. "I’m not sure, Percy. He seemed okay at first, but his friends said that he was troubled by what happened during the mission, and when I met him he blamed himself for Ramrod’s death! He started sobbing and kept saying he betrayed me! I don’t understand what is wrong with him!"
       Percival’s face darkened, and his brow knotted as he put down his tea cup. "Ramrod...dead? No, that’s not right! Miss Agnes, Ramrod made it out--I know, because the home office confirmed it!"
       Agnes gasped and put her hands to her face. "Oh, my! Poor Monzy believes that he is responsible for his death! All these years he has felt so guilty. He will be overjoyed to hear this! But where is Ramrod? Is he well? Perhaps I could talk to him also…"
       Percival shrugged his shoulders and lit a pipe he had close at hand. "I couldn’t say, Miss Agnes. The report said he’d been captured by agents of the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. upon their discovering him in the woods near Brie. That’s the last I heard of him."
       Agnes quickly rose to her feet and walked over to Percival’s seat. She placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. "Percival, again you have been the great hero! I must go to Monzy and tell him what you have told me! Thank you, my dear friend."
       Percival grabbed Agnes’ arm and she quickly looked back at him with a question in her face. "Wait, there is more....much more," Percy said. His face was suddenly stern. "Some of it may not be easy to hear, but if you want to know the full reason for Monty’s reaction you must stay with me a little while longer."
       Percival escorted Agnes over to the far wall. A painting on the far left side depicted a mouse-sized warehouse with large rose bushes in the background as far as the eye could see. "Do you remember it?" Percival asked. Agnes looked downcast. "Yes, how could I forget it? It was there that Monzy and I fell in love...and where we were parted...forever."
       "There are some times in one’s life that are forever seared into the mind. As you can see, my paintings are full of that time," Percival noted. He led her to another painting, this time of a chipmunk. This fellow was young, with narrow-set eyes and wore a black trenchcoat and grey sailor’s hat. The face bespoke power, or rather desire for power.
       Agnes shuddered a bit at the face. "Your paintings are remarkable, Percy. We have all been etched into your memory. Ramrod is every bit as intense and powerful as he was when we last saw him."
       Percival’s frown was set in stone. "And as treacherous. Your emotions blinded you to much of what happened at that time. It is my duty and indeed my honor to fill in the gaps for you." Percival led her back to the chair. "Were you aware that Ramrod had feelings for you?"
       Agnes looked alarmed by Percival’s words. She looked at him with searching eyes. "Why do you speak of treachery and of feelings? I don’t understand. I did not know he had feelings for me."
       Percival pressed her hand lightly, then cleared off another chair and sat down "The first thing an artist learns to paint are the eyes, thus I have learned to study others’ eyes. His eyes never left you when you were with us. And when we’d had to leave you and Monty alone, I noticed jealousy in those eyes when he returned."
       Agnes wasn’t sure that she wanted him to continue, but she knew that more than her own peace of mind was at stake. "I can understand jealousy, but what of the treachery that you spoke of?" Agnes asked.
       Percival got up and interlaced his hands behind him. "The last night we were all together has haunted me for years and I did not entirely know why. It’s deucedly difficult for me to sleep some nights--the dreams have robbed me of a lot of rest. And not until you told me Monty’s words and reaction did I fully understand."
       Percival returned to the painting of the warehouse and touched it with his hand, several layers of dried paint covering it. "It was lights-out. You had gone to the far side of the warehouse to guard the south entrance. I was across from you, and was about to settle in. Then I remembered I’d forgotten my infrared field glasses." Percival returned slowly to his chair and sat down. "I returned to the other side, where Ramrod and Monty were watching the west. I was embarrassed at first, because I caught the two in conversation. I was going to make myself known, as any proper gentleman would. Then I caught their words and decided to listen. Ramrod had told Monty to stay away from you and Monty had taken offense to it. That’s when he told Monty that you’d just accepted his proposal for marriage."
       Agnes nearly fell out of the chair. "Proposal?! Oh, my dear Monzy, he must have thought he was responsible for the death of the munk I would marry!" The more Agnes thought about it, the angrier she became. "How could Ramrod have said such a thing!? He made no proposal to me!" Then she paused and smiled. "But if Monzy had proposed, I would have accepted."
       "Yes, quite," Percival said. The mouse went to a private bureau and pulled out a sheet of paper. "I wrote down some of the account. I don’t know exactly why I kept it—I guess it was a means of self-therapy for the nightmare." Percival produced a pair of reading spectacles from his dressing-gown’s lapel pocket and began to read. "Monty was taken aback at first, and said he didn’t believe Ramrod. That was when he mentioned the kiss you’d given him. Ramrod said that was when you’d accepted and Monty believed it."
       Agnes was beside herself with anger. "But it was just a little kiss, like to a friend! Why would he lie to Monzy like that? He never said anything to me about his feelings! That terrible, wicked man to say and do such things to his friends!"
       Percival put the paper away. "He was a selfish, conceited chipmunk. Plus, I think he hated the idea of you and a mouse together—or at least that one. When we were alone earlier that day, he’d made reference to that ‘foul mouse’. I guess I didn’t really give it proper thought at the time--any more than his comments to Monty. Just seemed a bit of puffery."
       Agnes’ features filled with anger. "That…that fiend!"
       "Yes, Miss Agnes. But there is something else you should know—something that I would never have suspected had I not been there myself. On that fateful morning, I was awakened by hushed voices coming from the floor. I concentrated and realized that Ramrod had ventured down into the cheese locker with the enemy spies. My German is not what it should be, but I could catch enough of their conversation to realize that Ramrod was being paid off to betray us!"
       "No!" Agnes said. "Then, he was a double agent?"
       "He may have been. I’m not entirely sure," Percival said, "But he said he had switched the true ebola vial for a placebo filled with water that he had placed in my jacket. I crept swiftly to my overcoat and took out the fake. Then I waited. Five minutes later they came out. It was dark, so they never saw the piano wire I’d set up on the floor. The spy in the lead tripped right where I thought he would. Ramrod and the other spy tumbled over him. I was ready with my infrared lenses, and while he was recovering himself, I managed to spot which pocket had the vial and replace it with his placebo."
       "So you outsmarted him! Good for you, Percy! You are truly the heroic mouse. That traitor Ramrod! Enough of him, though. I have another mouse on my mind, who has suffered much at his hand," Agnes said.
       Percival patted Agnes’ hand. "But you can set his heart at rest, my dear. But before you do, could I ask a favor of you?" Percival asked. Agnes hugged Percival. "My friend, you have put my broken heart back together. There is nothing I would not do for you!"
       Percival looked at her meaningfully. "Do you still have it?"
       Agnes smiled and unclasped the slender necklace around her neck. "It has been next to my heart since the day I received it." At the end of the necklace was a silver-gilt locket. Percival gently opened it and looked at the picture of a younger Monty.
       Percival’s eyes glowed with memory. "Ah, yes. I still remember sitting there on those cheese crates and painting it. If you please, bring Monty by so that I can see the other one and speak to him myself. I want to create larger versions of them--as a wedding gift."
       Percival smiled knowingly and winked as he closed the locket. Agnes blushed at the suggestion, looking away. "It has been such a long time. Perhaps my Monzy does not feel so strongly about me now…"
       Percival reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold sovereign and put it in her hand. "If he doesn’t, keep that because I’ll have lost the wager. I know the love I saw in that lad’s eyes. I could paint it anytime. If he was that broken up over you, he’ll ask you, by George!"
       Agnes squealed with delight at the thought and hugged Percival again. "I must go to my Monzy right away! Every second apart is a second that we are not loving each other!"
       Percival opened the door. "Go then! But remember to bring him back with you. Oh, and I will be glad to grant you another interview for your story...." Agnes looked at him suspiciously, and Percival held up last month’s copy of the International Mouse-O-Graphic. "One of the old team in the British office called me. Congratulations, my dear! Congratulations twice over!"
       Agnes lad to laugh. Spies would be spies, even in civilian life it seemed. "It seems Jeffrey isn’t the only one who knows secrets. Thank you, my friend. You must promise me that you will be at our wedding."
       Percival took her arm and led her to the door. He saluted her hand again. "For you and that lad, I’d go much farther than that. May you find together the happiness you so richly deserve."
       Agnes hurried out of the Tierney House determined to get to Monty as fast as possible. Recruiting a pigeon for transport, she was soon in the air and within one minute she was within sight of Ranger Headquarters. Her eyes shone as she looked on the goal of her happiness. If those eyes had not been so preoccupied, they might would have noticed a larger shadow striking the ground. It came from behind her fast--talons grabbed the pigeon and held it and her in a crushing grip.
       The falcon dove quickly into an alleyway. As the bird of prey dropped its target, Agnes fell to the ground, unconscious. Then gloved hands shook as arms robed in black picked her up and quickly carried her to a waiting cart. Two eyes looked about quickly. No one had noticed. The shadowy hooded figure covered its secret with a tarp and rolled the cart out of the alleyway. Footsteps made their way down the street as the shadowy figure shuffled its left leg and pushed its charge along, turned a corner, and disappeared from view.
       Monty hadn’t left his room all morning, and the mutterings coming from inside cast a disturbing atmosphere over the rest of the Rangers. He’d only opened the door for Gadget when she’d brought him his lunch.
       "Did he take it?" Chip asked.
       Gadget nodded. "I put the sleeping powder in his water so he can calm down and get some peace for a little while." Chip grimaced, still thinking about the day’s events. "Do you think he really could have betrayed her?"
       "No!" Gadget said reflexively, then calmed down. "Chip, Monty’s been the kindest mouse I’ve ever met, next to my own dear father. There’s just no way he would do something terrible to Agnes!"
       "Then what’s this all about?" Chip asked. "Monty thinks he’s done something worse than murder!"
       Gadget shrugged a bit and looked downcast. "I don’t know, Chip. But maybe Agnes will find out. I need to know as much as she does-as Monty does!" The tears overcame Gadget and she sank in Chip’s arms.
       In Monty’s room, the mutterings were getting softer and softer. The sleeping draught was taking over.
       "Secret…secret mission…Brie…danger…danger…" Monty said, his eyes closing as he lay in his hammock. The sound of bombs re-entered his mind and as the embrace of slumber met him. He traveled back in time and space to where those bombs were not just heard but seen.
       Monty had been traveling with his father for years before he finally struck out on his own to seek his destiny. Monty enjoyed being his own master—he had felt suppressed by his parents’ need for his company most of his life and the burly Aussie was ready to get out on his own. Cities large and small throughout the world had already welcomed him in or kicked him out of their gates. Now he was touring France, on his way to Bordeaux for the annual wine and cheese festival.
       With only his nose to guide him, Monty had just left the town of Rouen and was enjoying a walking tour of a tranquil country lane. Tranquil that is, until two voices grabbed his attention. Monty couldn’t hear the words from his distance, but the tones were enough to convince him that trouble was afoot. And Monterey Jack was never one to back down from trouble.
       Creeping through the semi-dense undergrowth, Monty discovered a small clearing about 20 feet off the main road. It was a lovely sight in itself, with the trees waving their myriad green flags of late spring. Here and there a flowering bush painted the scene with a dash of yellow or red. None of these factors had caught Monty’s attention, for in the middle of the idyllic clearing a struggle to the death was in full force.
       "Give it up! Maybe I will let you live!" a voice shouted.
       "Never! Never upon my soul!" the other replied.
       The two voices belonged to mice who were wrestling each other for some unknown goal. The first mouse was dressed in black, including a black ski mask with the only evidence of his species being the telltale tail. A reflective flash told Monty that he had a knife in his hand.
       "Guess I’ll haveta figure out what’s what later. Hey, you! Stop!" Monty shouted.
       The knife-wielding mouse was surprised by the newcomer and guessed that his adversary had just gained an ally. With desperation taking over, he managed to stab the twisting figure under him in the leg and then leaped up at Monty in a savage fury.
       "Sie werden nicht siegen1" the attacker yelled in German. Monty had no idea what "you will not be victorious" referred to, but he knew the language and the threat behind it. "Put down the knife and we’ll talk!" Monty offered.
       "Nie!" the German replied, shaking his head. Then the mouse began to calm a bit, and change his language to match Monty’s. "You will not recover the vial, even if I have to die for it!"
       Monty was disappointed at the words. He knew this fellow meant business, and there was only one way to handle him. Monty pulled back the sleeves on his arms. "All right, if ya wanna fight, you’ve come ta the right mouse!"
       The German-speaking stranger was not daunted, and come steadily closer, looking for an opportune moment. Part of Monty’s attention remembered the other mouse lying in the grass. What if he was also an enemy? He hadn’t appeared to be dead, only wounded. But Monty could not afford to take his attention from his primary adversary.
       Then the disguised mouse leaped through the air and Monty prepared to side-step him as he did. Monty ducked, forcing the attacker to stab thin air. When he hit the ground Monty took him out with one well-placed chop to the back of the shoulders. As he rolled the now-unconscious mouse over and removed the hood, the other mouse began to groan loudly in pain.
       Monty looked around and studied this second mouse for the first time. He was wearing a tan trenchcoat and a black beret, which had long since fallen in the previous struggle. A black shirt and trousers completed the ensemble. The mouse’s arm was still outstretched in the direction of the target he’d selected and a wrist-worn dart gun was clearly visible under the trenchcoat’s sleeve.
       "Crikey! You’re right lucky I happened along when I did! Just who are you anyway?" Monty asked.
       His newfound acquaintance’s answer was a groan as the fallen mouse clutched first his ribcage and then his leg. "First, tie him up and get me out of sight! There may be more of them." Monty obeyed, tying the would-be killer up and disarming him of a gun and another weapon he wasn’t familiar with. These he brought with him, but refused to hand over when the wounded mouse asked for them.
       "First, let’s see some I.D. or somethin’. How do I know I didn’t just tie up a copper or somethin’, workin’ undercover?" Monty asked pointedly.
       The stranger smiled at Monty, though he was wincing from the pain. He liked this fellow. "First of all, R.A.S.C.A.L. agents do not go around carrying identification. And even if we did, they could be forged. However, you should be able to satisfy yourself with this," the mouse said, handing over an envelope. It was carrying the seal of the R.A.S.C.A.L.S., and addressed to one F. X. Nighter. Monty looked at him again, and handed over the weapons.
       "That’s not my real name of course, but one can’t be too choosy in the espionage business. Very good. Now, if you’ll help me up, we can…." Nighter’s litany was cut short by a spasm of pain shooting through him, causing him to yell out. Monty remembered Nighter’s concern about others in the area, and clamped one of his large hands over the agent’s mouth. With effort, Monty was able to get Nighter into a concealed thicket, away from prying eyes. As the spasm ended, Monty set about doing what he could for Nighter’s wounds.
       "I’m afraid I’m not much of a doctor mate," Monty apologized. "Me mum said I should’ve become one with the good hands I have an’ all. But I’ll get yer leg patched up enough for ya." Monty soon had a tourniquet applied to the leg, along with splints. Nighter’s breathing was a bit raspy, but nowhere near as bad as it had been during the seizure.
       Nighter caught Monty’s arm. "Thank you, my friend. I can’t continue my mission like this, so despite the reservations I have, I must turn it over to you. Do you know how to get to Brie from here?"
       "Brie? Sure. It’s on me way to Bordeaux. What’s in Brie?" Monty asked.
       Nighter had another seizure then, and nearly passed out. "Reach…reach into my inner…coat pocket. Take the vial, but do not under any circumstances open it. It’s full of..ARRRRGH!" Nighter seized up again, and this time the strain was too much for him. Just before he passed out, he grabbed Monty’s ear in a painful grip and pulled it toward him. "Tell them….Napoleon….is….at….Elba…" he whispered, then fainted.
       Monty did not know what to make of those words, but he knew enough to check Nighter’s vital signs. They were still good, despite this latest development. The young explorer stood up and looked around. He was alone as far as he could tell, and a good ten miles from the nearest town. Nighter had been indeed fortunate not to be wounded in any of the vital organs—or at least Monty hoped he wasn’t.
       "Well pally, I know what ya said but I still feel I should try to help ya," Monty said, looking down at his resting comrade. Then he reached into the jacket and took out the vial Nighter had mentioned. It was made of a strong, clear plastic and sealed tightly with a thick yellow tape surrounding the plastic stopper several times. On the side, it had a label:
       VHF—Filovoridae Ebola Zaire
       Monty couldn’t make anything of the abbreviation or the strange words next to it, other than Zaire of course. He’d been near there before, on his way to Kenya. But the yellow tape and the agent’s warning were enough for him. After leaving Nighter his canteen, Monty pocketed the vial and the envelope, being sure that the vial was safely stowed away before proceeding.
       "I’ve got to see if I can find someone—anyone," Monty said, walking out to the road. He waited for a good twenty minutes with nothing but the wind passing through. Then a sign of life did come, but it was the last one Monty wanted to see. A bullet crashed into the tree next to him, just as he had leaned against the tree and slid down its trunk to catch forty winks. Monty jumped up and ran for cover. Another bullet from the unknown sniper sought him out, but Monty’s skills at evasion were good and the next bullet was far away from him.
       "I’m sorry I can’t help ya more than I did, mate," Monty said under his breath. "But you should be safe where I left ya." With that self-exoneration, Monty took to his heels and made for the south. He didn’t like leaving Nighter there alone, but he knew too well if he’d gone back the assailant could have easily ended up killing them both from a hidden position.
       So it was five hours later that Monty found himself alone in front of a small campfire of dead wood—a trick his father had taught him to keep the fire from producing too much smoke. Monty reached into his pocket with the vial—it was safe. His hand touched the envelope and then he realized he’d not opened it yet. He did so immediately and read the contents:

       From: N

       To: Nighter

       This letter is only to be used as a last resort to inform one of your assigned contacts. If the reader of this letter is a contact, you know this mission is a level four priority.
       As you also know, R.O.D.E.N.T.S. has a strong presence here. If you are intercepted, you must turn over the information to one of your contacts along the way. When you reach Brie, you will look for the cheese warehouse on the southern outskirts of town. It is owned by one of our own, and he has turned over its use to us as a waypoint. There you will meet three members of the R.A.S.C.A.L.S.--two males and a woman.
       You will give them the standard recognition code before turning the item over. Remember, on this mission you are to get the item into the hands of your fellow-agents no matter what the cost. If you cannot make the rendezvous, or you find the agents eliminated, then the responsibility falls to you to take the item to Rouen. The world is counting on your success.


       Monty read and re-read the letter, then pocketed it. What was this all about? It was certainly important. If this Nighter was really who he said he was, it was critically so. Then his mind returned to the letter’s contents. Monty didn’t like the sound of a female being in this racket. "Well, she’d better be good. I normally would say that spyin’ ain’t a place for a lady. I don’t rightly like the idea of babysittin’ someone."
       Two and a half hours later, Monty set out under cover of the midnight darkness. The quarter-moon illuminated his features slightly, even though he did his best to use every bit of cover. Over the next three hours, Monty made his way through chilled rivers, under bridges and through woods that he knew could be lurking with danger. He was tired, but still able of body when he made it to Brie. The warehouse had been easy to locate--it was the only major building to the south of town, in the middle of the rose fields. There was no one around, and no light coming from the inside. Monty crept up stealthily and then treaded quietly into the dark and silent warehouse.
       "Anyone home?"
       A hand reached out and snared him. Suddenly a knife was at his throat.
       "Who are you?" a voice challenged.
       "I’m Monterey Jack. N sent me to meet some friends and to tell ‘em that Napoleon is at Elba."
       "But he prefers St. Helena," the voice replied. The knife left his throat.
       Monty had to shield his eyes as a lamp suddenly flooded the room with light. Two faces appeared as his eyes adjusted. The one who held the lamp was mouse dressed in a flight jacket, black beret and pants. The one who held the knife was a terse-looking chipmunk, with a black trenchcoat and a grey sailor’s hat "My name is Ramrod. This is Percival. You have something for us?"
       Monty grabbed the vial that he’d gotten from Nighter. "I think this is what yer lookin’ for, mate." Monty flipped it into the air toward Ramrod, and the chipmunk yelled in panic. Ramrod fumbled the vial, but the mouse’s quick hands snatched it before it hit the ground. Ramrod snatched the package and placed it inside his trenchcoat.
       "You infernal idiot!" Ramrod yelled. "Do you have no idea what is in that vial you so carelessly tossed?" Monty shook his head. "Not more than what’s on that there label. The contact didn’t tell me a thing, mate."
       The mouse stepped forward and shook Monty’s hand. "Greetings friend, I am Beowulf. My real name must wait for a more opportune moment—then perhaps we can have proper introductions. But as for what is in that vial, perhaps you should sit down first."
       Monty found a semi-comfortable cheese crate and Beowulf joined him. "The label actually tells the story. VHF stands for Viral Hemorrhagic Fever," Beowulf said. "The Ebola virus is a particularly virulent type of VHF. It was discovered eight years ago in Africa. There are several strains, but the Zaire variety is the most dangerous. Two micrograms is sufficient to kill a human."
       Monty was so overcome by this information, he had to think whether he was still breathing or not. He’d carried enough of that virus to kill himself a million times over! And he’d actually thrown it across the room!
       Beowulf could see the thoughts reflected in Monty’s features. "Do not concern yourself. You could not have known the danger you were carrying." Beowulf turned to Ramrod. "Sir, as you may recall, it is my sworn duty to carry the vial." He extended his hand toward Ramrod.
       Ramrod looked at his partner with an annoyance he couldn’t hide. "Very well. I forgot you were the navigator on this little excursion," Ramrod said. Ramrod handed over the vial to Beowulf, who placed it in his mapcase. The prim Britisher gave Monty a hand up from the floor. Ramrod pretended not to notice the gesture. "We’ve already seen evidence of enemy agents in the area tonight. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow at least."
       Monty slapped Ramrod on the back. "Well, mate, it looks like we’ll be roomies fer a little while! Say, I was told that there was a third person fer this mission. What happened to ‘er?"
       Ramrod slapped a hand over Monty’s face. "Quiet, you fool! Don’t you know how far your voice carries at night?! Do you want the Dark Assassin Squad over here?" Monty blushed in agitation as Ramrod paced a few feet and came back. "Look, too much is at stake to risk failure. Grendel is watching the other end of the warehouse to see if any agents observed your relatively clumsy approach," Ramrod said tersely.
       Monty’s interest in the mystery lady slipped with the mention of that code name. **Grendel? Must be a sight to look at.** He managed to keep his cool and whispered, "Look mate, I know how to handle meself. That’s how I got here through to this point! Just keep watchin’ me and I’ll teach you a few things." Monty patted Ramrod on the back again, and Ramrod looked more annoyed than before.
       "Keep your hands to yourself, mouse. We’ve got to stay alert, and it’s hard enough without having to depend on each other. I’d rather be alone in all this, but N seems to think everything is done in threes," Ramrod said.
       A slight noise came from the other side of the warehouse, growing incrementally louder as a slight shadow spread across the warehouse wall nearest the group. Ramrod turned slightly. "I think Grendel is coming to report."
       The shadow came near to the lamp and the light reflected on fiery-red hair, emerald-green eyes and a face that any painter would give his best work to. She was wearing a black beret and trenchcoat over a French country costume
       "All is clear Ramrod, I...."
       Their eyes met.
       "Tooo-Raaa-Looo..." Monty said, awestruck.
       The pretty chipmunk blushed slightly. "Are...are you the one we came to meet? But I thought the contact would be French..."
       Monty took off his aviator’s cap, bent over and kissed her hand. "Monterey Jack at yer service. There’s been a slight chance in plans." Grendel smiled appreciatively. The look on Ramrod’s face was positively poisonous, and it didn’t escape Percival’s sharp eye. Beowulf stepped between Monty and Ramrod. "My friends, it’s late. Perhaps we should get some rest. I’ll take first watch, then you Ramrod, then Grendel and finally Monty. "
       Ramrod grumbled something, then went to his post and settled down. The girl looked at Monty as he had never seen a female look. "I will see you in a couple hours Monzy, d’accord?" Grendel asked. Monty smiled back grandly, and tugged on his collar a bit. "You can count on that, luv." She smiled kindly, then left for her assigned section of the warehouse.
       The dawn was just beginning to wink over the horizon and its first golden rays illuminated her head. Monty gasped as though seeing a vision of heavenly beauty. He rubbed his eyes, seemingly in disbelief. Soon, the rigor of the trip told on him and Monty took up his corner of the warehouse and slept. He awakened to Beowulf touching his shoulder. The smell of coffee and cheese filled his nostrils
       "Monty...time to rise old bean," Beowulf said.
       Monty began mumbling in his sleep. "Crikey, mum, not cheese flapjacks again…can’t we have somethin’ without cheese fer a change? Uh, what...Oh, Beowulf, mate...good ta see ya!"
       Beowulf smiled in kind. "I think we can drop the codenames for now. My name is Percival Montgomery."
       "And I am Agnes," a whisper came from behind him. Agnes chuckled, as she knelt down and played with the tuft of hair above Monty’s eyes. "Bon matin, Monzy. Come and sit with me, and we will eat as well as those at the bistros along the Champs Elysses." In a flash Monty was seated beside her. "Well, Agnes luv, if you insist," Monty said. Agnes giggled and showed a smile that made the chilly morning suddenly warm.
       Then Monty looked over at his other companion. "So, Percy, how’s it look fer us gettin’ outta here?" Percival poured up the coffee. "Ramrod told me he has a contact in the area that will let us know when it’s safe to leave. He’s out scouting the area right now, looking for any signs of enemy presence."
       Agnes could never stay silent when she was curious. "Monzy, how is it a rugged Aussie like yourself is in the R.A.S.C.A.L.S.?" Monty perked up at the compliment, but he wasn’t sure he should tell them the whole story just yet. "Well, Agnes luv, it’s everyone’s duty ta fight the bad guys and I put myself where I’d do the most good. Bein’ a jack o’ all trades made me ideally suited fer this job—that an’ being in the right place at the right time of course."
       As Monty poured a cup of coffee, Agnes reached into a secure pocket and pulled out a small clear plastic photo album. She showed the pictures to Monty, and stopped at one in particular of a chipmunk boy about five or six years old. "That is my little nez cerise—my nephew Dale. He is the most fun to play with! I plan to go see him and my brother’s family as soon as I can." Monty looked at the picture. The little chipmunk had a great big smile on his face. "Well, he sure looks like a jolly little tyke."
       Agnes gave him a coquettish smile and asked innocently, "And do you have any plans for after this mission? Returning home to your wife, perhaps?" Monty didn’t catch the meaning behind the question. "I’m a free spirit as restless as the wind and I figure after this shindig I’ll be the same way...wife?!? I ain’t the marryin’ type. It would take a rare woman to be the perfect match fer Monterey Jack, she’d ‘ave to be..." Monty found himself captivated by Agnes’ beauty. "Unique, exquisite—the most remarkable and beautiful woman in the world."
       Agnes’ smile grew all the more. "And unattached? You must tell me more of this woman, Monzy. But first, I would like a bit of exercise. Do you wrestle?" Monty looked up from his breakfast at her strangely, sure that he had misunderstood her. "I didn’t quite catch that last bit, Agnes luv…"
       Percival stifled a laugh. "She took me three of three falls, old boy. Better watch yourself--she’s tricky. I’ll patch you up if she hurts you too bad."
       Agnes rose and began to limber up. Monty was totally surprised. She was really serious! "Well, I did study a little wrestlin’ in the Orient—mostly sumo type. But I’ll give ya a go if ya wanna try."
       Agnes faced him with a look of iron. "Very good. Come over here, away from the windows in case anyone is looking." Agnes bowed to Monty and took up a standard fighting pose. Percival drank his coffee and knew he was about to see something he’d appreciate.
       Monty noticed her professional fighting stance, and found he liked this female all the more. "It’s strange. This sorta reminds me of the way me mum and dad deal with a disagreement..." Agnes smirked. "Well, then they must get along well! Do not think I will be easy on you, mon ami, even if I am starting to like you."
       Monty’s eyebrows shot up in surprise at her admission, allowing her to strike with the speed of a cobra and the ferocity of a tiger. Agnes leaped through the air, and wrapped her legs around Monty’s neck in a scissors movement. Using her full body weight, she flipped Monty to the floor. The agile chipmunk landed on her feet.
       Agnes smiled down at the wide-eyed Aussie. "Did you mother ever use that move on your father?" Monty was floored, in more ways than one. "Crikey! You been taken lessons from ‘em by the look o’ it! Yer somethin’ else, Agnes!"
       Agnes grinned in satisfaction at the compliment. "I’ll give you first move this time, Monzy." Monty made a lightning fast move, to which she countered with an equally fast reaction. Then they both had the same thought and leaped and within moments found themselves face to face in each other’s arms.
       "Now, for my most devastating move of all..." Agnes said slyly. She leaned in and kissed him. Percival smiled warmly and found his coffee even more enjoyable than it was a moment ago.
       Monty was stunned at first, but soon he returned her kiss with equal passion. Agnes looked into his eyes. "Ah, who is this woman you were mentioning before?" Monty just looked into her emerald green eyes. He found it difficult to form any words.
       "I just met her...her name is Agnes," Monty managed.
       Agnes relaxed and bowed. "Then I must tell you about her. She is an agent who at heart is a writer who searches the world for stories. And right now she has found a most interesting one in a handsome Australian mouse by the name of Monzy..." Monty was enjoying this little game. "Funny you should mention an Australian mouse named Monty. I just happen to know the chap, and I think the two o’ them would get along just great."
       Percival cleared his throat and the couple remembered that they weren’t alone. Monty and Agnes gave Percival a harsh glance for interrupting the romantic moment. "Can I help you with somethin’ Percival?" Monty asked gruffly. Agnes laughed hard. "Monzy, you are priceless! But come, we are not being fair to good Percy. Come and let us speak with him. He has a talent most wonderful."
       Monty composed himself and escorted Agnes back over to the young Brit. "Okay, Percival, mate. What’s on yer mind?" As they came over, Percival reached into his mapcase and brought out a small palette and a bunch of brushes. "I could see there was something between you two even last night. I should like to do something for you. I am a good painter, even if I say it myself. It would give me great pleasure to paint you two as you are now. It will give each of you something pleasant to remember in the years to come."
       Monty winked at Percival. "I think I already got somethin’ pleasant to remember." Agnes took Monty’s hand. "Oh, Monzy! Let’s do. I would like to have a picture of that charmant face as it is now." Now how could Monty resist that? "Well, if it would make you happy, Agnes. I never had anyone call me "charmant"—at least not to me face."
       Agnes laughed at his little joke. "Then many a girl has missed her chance, my charming friend. I am glad to hear it," Agnes said with emphasis. Monty smiled and put his arm around Agnes and held her close. "Me front is me best side, I’m told."
       Percival took out two small momento-sized circles of white porcelain to paint on. Agnes sat first and looked lovingly at Monty the whole time. Then it was Monty’s turn. In the course of a half-hour, Percival had done his work. Then he pulled out a couple more things.
       "This watchchain and locket belonged to my brother, who was also an agent in the organization. He was killed in a covert operation a year ago—he loved as you both do. The watchchain was his and the locket was meant for his beloved. Take them, Monty and Agnes. It would make Jonathan happy to know they were kept by someone who would appreciate them," Percival said.
       Monty took the watchchain and held it gingerly in his hands "Percival, I’m touched by yer gesture. You sure, mate?" Percival nodded. "Accept it, my friend. They would just go into a sock drawer at home. With you two, I know they will be treasured."
       Monty and Agnes accepted the gifts and exchanged momentos to place in each container. Agnes had tears in her eyes and she hugged Percival warmly. "Percy, you’re too kind!" Percival raised a hand. "Tut, tut my dear! Least I can do to help a budding romance along. My wife would say I’m eccentric, and she’d be right. But this kind of business requires eccentricity, does it not?"
       Monty put his picture of Agnes away securely. "It sure does mate. Fallin’ in love with a beautiful chipmunk at first sight and all—not that there’s anythin’ wrong with that mind you."
       "Or a cute mouse, for that matter..." Agnes added.
       At that moment, Ramrod returned. He noticed Monty and Agnes’ proximity to each other and was instantly jealous. Monty got up and patted Ramrod on the back. "Ramrod, mate! Good to see ya again. Uh, what’s your real name?"
       Ramrod gave Monty an icier stare than before. "You can call me Ramrod. Percy, you’re with me. We need to go into town and make contact with a local informant I know. I trust the two of you will stay out of sight and out of trouble?"
       Monty gazes lovingly at Agnes "You can count on that, mate." He gave Ramrod a knowing wink.
       "No problem, Ramrod. I look forward to your return!" Agnes said. Monty gave Agnes a curious glance at those words. Ramrod doffed his hat. "And I to returning, mademoiselle. We should be back before nightfall." Ramrod and Percival left the building, taking care not to be seen leaving.
       Monty watched them go and then turned around. "Well,’s just the two o’ us." Agnes turned and looked at Monty. "Why the bemused look, mon petit chou?" Monty shrugged. "I don’t know, Agnes luv—yer like no woman I’ve ever known before."
       Agnes walked over to a cheese crate and took a seat. "Well, you have probably never met a woman that’s been on all seven continents and won an Ace Award for her work at International Mouse-O-Graphic."
       Monty whistled at that list. "Can’t rightly say that I ever have. But I’ve been on those continents too and won an award fer caber tossin’ when I was in Scotland." Agnes was immediately interested. "Have you been to the caber tossing, too? I was there when Ian MacGregor set the record!"
       Monty looked a bit uncomfortable. "Well, It woulda been me settin’ the record, but I spent the night before toastin’ the health o’ the other contestants and got a little toasted meself…" Agnes laughed, and suddenly stopped. "I think I remember you now! Were you the one that tried to toss the judge?" Monty looked alarmed. "Uh, no, that was some other roguishly handsome Australian mouse that looked just like me."
       Agnes smiled and looked at him coyly. "Oh, I see! Well, I suppose there is more than one handsome Aussie I might meet at a caber toss. Do you read the I-M-G, Monzy?" Monty took a seat next to her. "I might’ve seen an edition here or there, but I don’t read anythin’ regular. I’m just never in one place long enough."
       "I can understand that. For the last ten years, I have done nothing but travel and write. Some days I tire of it, and some days I could not imagine life without seeing a new place every week. Do you find it so?" Agnes asked.
       Monty eyed her meaningfully. "Well, I don’t know...unless I had a reason to settle down…." Agnes caught the look. "Well, maybe you will...."
       Agnes started coming closer to Monty and then her eyes caught a glimpse of something. She remained totally composed. "Monzy, we are being watched. I believe the watcher is not friendly. We need to hide!" Monty grabbed Agnes’ hand and they dashed for the shadows. Agnes pulled him over to the corner. "Ramrod said there was a large cheese locker over here somewhere.....ah, under the large box. Push, Monzy!"
       With Herculean effort, Monty moved the box. Agnes opened the trap door as Monty pushed a smaller box to partially conceal the door. They went down and Agnes found a lamp and lit it. "If they come here, I will have to douse the light. We cannot risk it!" Monty punched his fist. "If any stinkin’ R.O.D.E.N.T. agents come down here I’ll douse them all right!"
       Agnes had all her attention on the floor above them. "If they find us, it could mean the end of our mission...or more...." Outside, two shady figures approached the building. Their muffled conversation reached to the cheese locker. Agnes quickly fished for a device in her trenchcoat and put on what appeared to be ordinary headphones. These she connected to a small squarish device that she held up to the floor. "Ah, they only thought they saw someone! They are coming in to check. Douse the light!" Monty blew out the light and held his breath.
       Above, the footsteps of the soldiers resounded throughout the warehouse. They stopped on the far side. Agnes moved closer to Monty and whispered, "They have seen our coffee mugs! One of them said they, now he says they have found something….Oh, smart Percival! He left behind a dummy note telling anyone who was looking for us that we’d left."
       Monty had to admire the Britisher’s forethought. "A right smart cookie ‘e is." Agnes began to tense up. "Now they are going to search the rest of the building just in case...." Monty and Agnes held their breath as a crack in the floorboard allowed them to see the guns and dark clothing of the R.O.D.E.N.T agents walking overhead. Then the secret door began to open! Monty made a move to push Agnes out of the way, but she beat him to it, meeting the surprised faces above as the door came open.
       "AGGIE!" Monty yelled, as voices shouted above, along with gunfire and sounds of brawling. Monty regained his feet and was almost to the door when Agnes poked her head down, an amused look on her face as she nearly sang the words, "It is safe to come out now!" Monty climbed up and was purely amazed. In a matter of seconds, she’d disarmed, beaten, tied and gagged two large mice who were now unconscious on the floor. "Great gallopin’ gouda, Agnes….I’m glad I’m on your side…."
       Agnes got out of the sightline of the door. "There could be more outside. Should we look? It could be a means to get us outside, I suppose...." Monty knew that agents often laid traps for the unwary. "Well, we should wait ‘ere a little while and try ta trick the trickster. C’mon, we’ll stow them below ‘fore they wake up."
       "I do not think we need worry too much, Monzy," Agnes said, exposing a miniature tranquilizer dart gun on her wrist that was shaped like a bracelet. "They will be in dreamland for another five hours yet."
       As they re-entered the cheese locker, Agnes relit the lamp and brought it up low. The earthy smell of the cool cheese locker pervaded the atmosphere. Boxes of Brie lined the walls, as well as a well-stocked wine cellar. An old victrola rested on top of one of the boxes
       "Well, I’d say we won’t suffer too badly for the wait..." Agnes whispered. Monty walked over to a wine crate and gently took out a bottle. Monty’s eyes widened when he looked at the date. **Crikey! This stuff’s older than me dad,** Monty thought.
       Agnes found two wine flutes and Monty opened one of the cheese boxes as quietly as possible. With the aid of a slicer, an old tablecloth and a few boxes for table and chairs they are soon as well-set as any couple in the middle of a dangerous mission could ask to be. Agnes raised her glass.
       "Salut, Monzy," she said.
       "Down the hatch," Monty whispered.
       After half an hour, a bottle of Chateau Briand and half a box of cheese were a thing of the past. Agnes’ attention returned to the floor above them. "Monzy, I think it should be safe by now. Go ahead and take a look."
       Monty carefully opened the door and crept out. He quietly explored the warehouse for any concealed agents, then continued his search outside. Satisfied that they were safe and alone, Monty turned to go back to the warehouse. Then his eyes came to rest on a single rose adorning a nearby bush, a magnificent shade of crimson. He plucked it and carried it back with him to the cheese locker
       Agnes beamed appreciatively when she saw the gift. "Oh, a dwarf crimson! Monzy, how thoughtful! I take it the coast is clear?" "It sure is, Agnes luv," Monty replied. Monty glanced at the victrola and smiled as a thought entered his mind. "Agnes, you any good at dancin’?"
       Agnes made a mock curtsey. "Miss Rockenburg’s School of Dance, second place in the regional finals. What is the music?" Monty looked around for a little while, but the only record available was platter on the victrola itself.
       "I hope you like to tango, it’s the only thing we got!" Monty said.
       Agnes put the rose in her teeth. "Wind it up, Monzy!" Monty wound the old victrola and placed the needle on the record. Then he held out his hand to her. "May I have this dance, milady?" Monty asked, with a touch of flair.
       Agnes fanned an invisible fan. "Oh, I am glad someone finally came over here! The other boys haven’t asked me to dance all night," she said, pointing to the two unconscious forms in the corner. The music began--a scratchy version of the classic tango. To Monty’s surprise, she turned out to be an excellent dancer.
       Monty chuckled, "Crikey, Agnes luv, is there anything you can’t do?" Agnes was enjoying every moment. "I couldn’t dance so well without a good partner, Monzy. Where did you learn?" Monty looked very embarrassed. "Uh,’s kinda..." Finally he whispered the words, "Me mum taught me…she said any fella that wants to impress a woman o’ any quality has to know how ta dance."
       Agnes laughed brightly and kissed him on the cheek as they reversed direction. "She’s a fine teacher, Monzy. And she is right. I look forward to meeting her someday." To Monty it suddenly felt as though the room had gotten twenty degrees hotter. He tugged at his collar again. " me mum? Uh, well she’d be a mite curious as to why I’d brung ya to see her."
       Agnes squeezed him a bit tighter. "Oh, just for a good woman-to-woman talk, if nothing else. It is rare to meet the maman who teaches her son such fine qualities." Monty was glowing red as her smile bespoke teasing. "Well, me mum and dad are high class people all the way. The essence o’ refinement and breedin’."
       Agnes’ expression didn’t change. "No doubt, no doubt. Monzy, if you could have one wish, what would it be?" Monty looked deeply into her emerald green eyes. "Me wish would be to find the woman that would be my perfect match," Monty said, almost unaware he’d said it rather than thought it.
       "And to dance into the heavens with her, n’est ce pas? Come, and we shall dance as close to it as we can!" Agnes said.
       Suddenly, the music combined with the atmosphere filled Monty with a euphoria unlike any he’d known. His vision blurred and then he was no longer in a cheese locker. He was in a building of pure crystal, with the stars above and below it. To one side, a hundred-piece orchestra had replaced the victrola and divine music was resonating everywhere. Then he looked at Agnes--she was in a flaming red dress and she wore a white lace covering over her head that draped to the floor. She still held the rose in her teeth. Then Monty realized he was dressed in finery too--a tuxedo with white gloves and spats.
       Agnes spoke, seemingly having the same vision. "Monzy! You look wonderful this evening!" He took her in his arms and held her tightly as they danced, lost in the magic of the moment. He wanted to spend the rest of his life in her arms, gazing in her eyes.
       "Agnes, you look...well, there ain’t a word invented yet that can describe how wonderful you look," Monty said softly. Agnes giggled appreciatively. "We must come here more often, then. Did you pay for that grand orchestra?"
       Monty shook his head. "Nope, just found ‘em here. Lucky fer us, ain’t it?" Agnes stared into his eyes. "Wasn’t that nice of them! Though they could learn a new song now and then...." Monty and Agnes’ reflections showed vibrantly in the crystal floor as they glided across it.
       Monty chuckled again. "And do somethin’ about that cheese smell. Well, from now on when I smell cheese I’ll always think o’ you." Agnes sighed in his arms. "And I will never smell another rose without thinking of my precieux Monzy!" Monty decided it was time to ask the question that had been dogging him. "So, is there anyone special in yer life?"
       At that moment, a knocking was heard at the trap door. "I say, are you two down there?" Percival asked. "I don’t think that ruddy victrola is playing itself...." Ramrod grumbled.
       Monty snapped back to reality, but looked at Agnes as if to make sure she wasn’t too good to be true as well. Then he looked up. "Yeah, we’re down here, mate! We were hidin’ out cause a couple of unfriendly blokes waltzed by earlier. We decided ta invite them down." Ramrod opened the door and found himself face to face with Monty and Agnes. His eyes narrowed more than ever. Monty picked up Agnes and handed her up to Ramrod.
       Ramrod helped Agnes out of the locker. "Well, at least you didn’t waste all your time. I’ll take charge of the prisoners. We have the information we need."
       "Ah, merci Ramrod," Agnes said, giving him a small kiss.
       Monty held a hand up. "How’s about a boost, Ramrod mate?" Ramrod ignored him. "We have to be ready to go. My informant told me there will be more agents near here tonight, so we’ll stay until dawn. We should be out of here by six."
       Percival helped Monty up from the trap door while Agnes helped. "Would it not be better to try it at night?" Agnes asked. Ramrod checked the windows. "No, we cannot risk it. And in the morning, my informant told me we’ll have a clean shot toward Rouen." Percival also reconnoitered the building, then returned. "If the info your contact gave you was right, we should be okay. So how did you two hold out while we were gone?" There was a glint in his eye.
       Monty smiled and looked at Agnes. "Oh, you know, we chatted a bit, had some wine, captured some agents, ate some cheese, danced in each others arms fer hours... nothin’ special." Ramrod’s face went white with anger, but he still had some control left. "And if the Dark Assassin Squad had been lying in wait outside? We would have come back to two corpses! I might have expected that from a mouse."
       Monty’s eyes took on a harsh glint. "I might be a little more careful with me choice o’ words if I were you, mate. But we waited fer quite a while after those two passed out and I did a little lookin’ on me own afterward just to make sure we were safe."
       "Well, at least you had the sense to leave Agnes in safety. If anything had happened to her..." Ramrod said, his blood up. Percival came between the two, as before. "Ramrod, cool down!" Ramrod counted to five, then continued. "Very well. Just remember this is a professional operation and not a frolic in the countryside." Ramrod walked off to the other side of the building, leaving an icy chill behind him.
       Percival returned his attention to the angry Aussie. "Sorry, Monty. He’s not usually this agitated. Coolest customer I’ve ever come across, when facing anything dangerous." Monty knew Ramrod’s type. They could be pushed so far. And then… "Well, he better learn mighty quick who the enemy is. Those agents will look like a bunch o’ pushovers if he gets on the wrong side o’ Monterey Jack."
       While the others were engaged in conversation, Ramrod slipped the vial out of Percival’s mapcase which Percy had put down when they came in, and replaced it with another vial. Then he slunk off, muttering under his breath, "Soon, my Aussie adversary...soon you will be gone and I will have what I want."
       Nightfall came quickly and soon it was time to eat. After a supper of cheese, wine and a few biscuits that Percy had preserved, it was time for slumber. Ramrod had agreed to take the first watch. Monty had just finished checking his part of the warehouse when he returned to see Agnes very close to Ramrod. She put her arms around him and kissed him. Then she retired and Ramrod came in his direction. Monty had retreated back so as not to be discovered
       Ramrod for once seemed in a jovial mood. "There you are. I hear from Agnes that you two had a pleasant afternoon." Monty didn’t know how to take that. "Pleasant? It was down right spectacular, mate."
       Ramrod indicated that Monty should sit and they both found boxes. "Monty...if I may call you Monty, I think there is something you should realize."
       Monty had no idea where this was going. "What’s that, Ramrod mate?"
       "I saw you peeking around the corner at Agnes and I. I asked her for her hand in marriage and she just accepted me. She told me about everything that happened this afternoon, and I forgave her. I am not the most friendly of chipmunks, Monty. I know this. So I will not hold what happened against you. Do you understand?" Ramrod asked.
       The expression on Monty’s face read total devastation. His mouth moved but no words came out. Ramrod put a hand on his arm. "I understand your pain, Monty. This mission has been hard on Agnes, and she told me how charming you were. It was innocent, I know. But she has been betrothed to me for several months now. You could not know, so again I do not hold it against you. I only ask that you honor her request and mine."
       Monty sighed hard and patted Ramrod on the shoulder. He stood up and turned away from his rival. "Okay, mate. I’ll not stand in yer way...or hers," Monty said, his voice pathetic.
       Behind the boxes, Percival’s ears caught the entire conversation. He started to get up and go speak to Agnes. Then he sat back down. After all, it was not really his business. Plus who knew what Ramrod might do if his ruse was undone? Maybe things would work out well on their own.
       Ramrod smiled, and the smile was awful to behold. "I knew you were a mouse of honor, or I would not have explained as I do now. Just so you know, she enjoyed the afternoon and speaking with you. You see, I do not deny that her feelings were involved. But unfortunately for you, I came first."
       "I understand, mate. It just wasn’t meant to be. Treat her right, mate, or one day this mouse of honor will come to her rescue," Monty said. Monty had hardly heard Ramrod’s words—not that he’d wanted to hear them at all. He retired to his section of the warehouse, away from the others. The lovelorn mouse just sat there in the dark, sinking into dark despair and already pining for his lost love.
       Ramrod went to his patrol and when it was Percival’s turn he let the artist sleep, saying he wanted to be alert for anything going on. At about 5:30 in the morning, Monty heard a noise outside. It stirred him from his sleep and keeping low, he made his way about 30 feet from the warehouse. Then he saw them—two forms leaving the far end of the warehouse. The enemy agents? Monty returned to the rear door of the warehouse, thinking that they had overpowered Ramrod and escaped. Then as he entered the door, he looked back to see the moon--and that was all that saved him from being stabbed in the back.
       "You shall not have her! She is mine! Mine!" Ramrod cried.
       Monty was instantly filled with rage. "You backstabbin’..." Monty punched Ramrod in the face. Ramrod rolled with the punch and came back up, knife bared along with teeth.
       Ramrod was out for blood. "I saw the look in your eyes! You’re not worthy of her! You’ll never be! I am the only one she truly loves! And you won’t be around to keep me from being with her!" Ramrod lunged at Monty with the knife.
       Monty grabbed the hand that held the knife and twisted, causing Ramrod to drop it, then he pushed Ramrod away. He kicked the knife into a dark corner of the room. Then he motioned for Ramrod to come. "Fight me like a man, ya’ coward!"
       Ramrod tried several backroom fighting techniques on Monty, but the Aussie’s blood was up. Soon Ramrod was battered and bruised, but he would not fall. "Better...and better! But I will still be her husband and any man who tries to stop me betrays Agnes!"
       Just then, the sound of several planes could be heard overhead. Ramrod reflexively looked at his watch. A red light was flashing on it. "No! Not now!" Ramrod shouted. Monty was caught off guard by the comment. "Whatcha mean ‘not now?’ How’d ya know they were comin’?"
       The sound of bombs whistling through the air prevented any answer, but Ramrod was already running. The bombs hit the factory, plastering the roof. The beams cracked and caved in, then one of the lamps fell over and ignited the loose wood. Ramrod was pinned under one of the beams and the fire was building fast.
       Monty pushed his way out from under some roofing, then he heard a pleading voice that only moments ago had been sinister. "Help me! Help me, please!" Monty started for him, then he thought of someone else.
       "Agnes! Oh, no!" Monty cried.
       Ramrod was pinned under a large beam and growing desperate. "Help me out and we’ll find her together! I was wrong to attack you! I was jealous over my betrothed!"
       Monty hesitated a moment more, then ran to Ramrod. The beam was heavy and the fire was building. "I’ve gotta get somethin’ to force it off!"
       "Hurry, please!" Ramrod shouted. "The fire’s almost to me!"
       Monty ran to a nearby debris pile and found a timber of manageable size. The bombs started dropping again as he worked. Then one fell into the building, only it didn’t explode! The fire was running toward it, only a few feet from where Monty was trying to save Ramrod.
       "Come on! Come on! It’s going to detonate! PLEASE!" Ramrod yelled, trying to free himself. Monty strained and yelled with the effort, but the weight on the beam was too much.
       "I can’t move it!" Monty shouted over the noise of the bombs and fire. "It’s too heavy!"
       Ramrod’s face was unforgettably nasty. "You lie! You want her for yourself! You want to take my betrothed from me!"
       "No!" Monty shouted back, still trying.
       "I can smell your guilt! You stink of it!" Ramrod countered.
       The fire was approaching the bomb now. There were only seconds left. "I’m sorry, Ramrod! There’s no way to get you out! I’m sorry!"
       Monty ran for it, and heard Ramrod yelling from behind him. "You betrayed me! You betrayed me, you evil mouse! You betrayed...."
       The bomb went off, and Monty was thrown to the ground. Debris flew everywhere. Monty went back to the building, but the wreckage that covered the area where Ramrod had been was too thick to even consider looking through.
       The fire, those words and his feelings of guilt combined with dashed love, betrayal and death led him to do something Monty almost never did. He ran from the burning building like a mouse afraid of his own life. His tears blurred his vision, and Ramrod’s last words burned in his mind and then they came out his mouth. "I betrayed you, Agnes! I betrayed you! I dinna mean for it to happen! I didn’t! I didn’t!"
       Monty turned over fitfully in his sleep, trying to expel the words from his mind, but knowing he couldn’t. Gadget stopped a moment outside his door, caught between waking him or letting him get whatever brand of rest he could. The latter point won, and she passed on while Monty continued to repeat those words and the dream cruelly began again.

Chapter Five - The Rose and the Brie

       Percival pulled on his brown patent leather shoes, and set out a tan waistcoat and brown herringbone suit. He’d realized once Agnes left that this would be as good a time as any to meet his old acquaintance Monty again.
       "Shall I call for your driver, sir?" a mouse asked, dressed in a butler’s outfit.
       Percival shook his head. "No, Reggie. I’m determined to walk over there."
       Reginald Hanover had been Percival’s manservant for ten years now, and had been out doing the week’s shopping for his master when Agnes had arrived. He found that Percival was still a mystery after all this time. "Sir, you hardly ever go out anymore! Is this Monty fellow so important, then?" Reginald asked, his traditional British accent showing through.
       Percival finished dressing with Reginald’s help. "That time in my life is still unresolved. I’d like a good ending to it, with Monty and Agnes getting together. A good ending is like a good painting-pleasing to the eye and it pays for itself."
       Reginald opened the door to the dumbwaiter as the now-austere-looking Percival put on a tan bowler hat. "May I accompany you at least, sir? I know how you hate the crowds, and maybe.." Percival shot a glance at his butler. "Reggie, I know you’ve been with me a long time. I was and am grateful to you. You helped me get past Maggie’s death and get on with my life. You’re as good a friend as I could ask for. But I must do this myself, alone."
       Reginald nodded, and opened the door. "Safe trip, sir."
       Percival didn’t want to admit it, but he was nervous. He almost considered going back and letting Reginald drive him. He didn’t like to flaunt his wealth though, even if his paintings were the most sought-after on three continents. Percival studied the faces on the street, half-wondering if they would recognize him and ask him for an autograph. He was half-relieved and at the same time a little disappointed when no one spoke to him.
       "I suppose I have been shut in for too long," Percival muttered under his breath. "I need to get out more and observe what the world is like now." Percival made the silent promise to himself and decided that Ranger Headquarters would be the first test for him.
       It was no problem finding the park, but it took him a good ten minutes to work up his courage to ask one of the young park squirrels where the Rangers’ tree was. The teenager came over—a squirrel—and Percival was surprised at how courteous he was. "We don’t get many strangers with foreign accents ‘round here. Only that Rescue Ranger, you, and some other fella who sounded sorta like you," the squirrel said.
       "Someone else? Did he have a British accent like mine?" Percival asked.
       The squirrel thought a moment. "Nah, sorta gruff sounding. He mixed up his words, too. Something like, ‘I am for the Rangers’ tree looking’."
       A frown appeared on Percival’s face. "Thank you, sir. And whom do I have the honor of thanking?"
       "The name’s Roybrush. Rob Roybrush. See you around!" the squirrel said, running off toward the far side of the park.
       Monty hadn’t come out all afternoon, and Gadget knew the sleeping draught should be wearing off. She tapped lightly on the door.
       "It’s open, luv," Monty said. Gadget came in. "Did you sleep okay, Monty?" Monty slumped off his hammock and stretched and half-heartedly replied, "Slept like a baby, Gadget." Gadget saw the bags under his eyes and knew the truth. "Uh huh. Look Monty, I know today’s been a bad time for you, but you can’t stay in your room forever. She’s going to come back sometime."
       Monty looked like a mouse facing his last meal. "I know. I should’a faced her like a brave fellow, but I ran away again. There’s painful issues here that need to be taken care of, but I just…I just can’t do it!" Gadget softened a bit. "Monty, I know you think you’ve done something terrible but she was still wanting to see you! I think she really cares about you."
       Monty gently hugged Gadget. "Gadget, there’s some things too terrible to forgive. Some things we jus’ have to carry the burden for alone. It’s too much to ask." Gadget wiped away a tear from Monty’s face. "There’s got to be more to it, Monty. I’m sure of it."
       A knock came at the main door. Gadget left immediately while Monty changed and headed to the kitchen to make himself a bite to eat. The last thing he wanted to do now was talk to anyone. "Agnes luv, I’m sorry fer everythin’."
       Dale answered the door and saw a dapper mouse standing outside. "Uh, hi there! We’re the Rescue Rangers, how can we help you? Is something missing? A person in danger? The world about to be destroyed? No case too big, no case too small! That’s our motto."
       Percival took off his hat. "Nothing so dramatic, my friend. My card. I’ve come to see Monty." Percival handed him a gold-gilded namecard. Dale read the card, and looked back at Percival with a slightly respectful awe. "Gosh, a card! You must be important!" Dale rushed off. He returned with a reluctant Monty moments later, then Dale went to find Chip and Zipper.
       Monty could hardly believe his eyes. "Crikey! Percival mate! Old friends are poppin’ out o’ the woodwork today. What brings you here, pally?" Percival offered his hand, and Monty shook it. "Well, I had a visit from an old friend as well--Agnes in fact. She stirred me to appear from my exile and come out into the real world. However are you, old bean?"
       At the mention of Agnes’ name Monty’s expression turned sad. "Not doin’ too well, old friend. I had to tell her that Ramrod’s death was all my fault, that I killed the one she was gonna marry."
       Ramrod had walked halfway to the couch when at those words he suddenly stopped and turned quickly toward Monty. "Then...she didn’t tell you? She’s not here?!" Monty saw the alarm in his eyes and took on a measure of it. "Tell me what? She left here to see you, mate."
       Percival ran up to Monty, a terrible idea forming in his mind. He grabbed Monty’s arm. "When I told her about Ramrod, she lit out like a ruddy lightning bolt! She was coming straight here, I know it! Something must have happened to her!"
       Agnes, in trouble? Monty forgot any notion of self-pity. "Something happened to her! How? Who would do anything to her?" Gadget had stood there quietly during the exchange, but she knew Percival had more to tell. "Golly, what did you tell her about Ramrod?"
       Percival needed help getting to the couch, so strong were his emotions. "Monty, what do you remember of the night when you and Ramrod had the fight?" Monty recounted the terrible events that had haunted his dreams. "It’s all my fault that he’s dead."
       Percival looked him square in the eye. "He’s not dead."
       Monty was too stunned to respond. Gadget put her hands to her face. "Golly and a half!"
       Percival began to recover. "As I told Agnes, I got a report on Ramrod from the home office at Whitehall. From N himself! Ramrod had been captured by the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. after escaping the bombing. You only thought he’d been killed! That’s when Agnes tore out of my house like lightning."
       Monty was downtrodden. "She’s gone to look fer him, fer her lost love. It’s all my fault that he got caught by the enemy and that he and Agnes were apart!" Percival grabbed Monty by the jacket collars and shook him. "Monty, she never loved him! She never did! I overheard everything that night between the two of you and thought about breaking it up. I wished I had....I wished I had! It would have saved both of you years of suffering. But she doesn’t love Ramrod and she never did!"
       Monty had never fainted in his life, but he almost did now. "Then… that lyin’ backstabbin’ no good!...when I get through with him he’ll wish he had died in that fire! Where’s Agnes? I gotta find her!"
       Chip and Dale had come in the room with Zipper and shared Monty’s feelings, especially Dale. They came over to control the now-violent Monty. "Monty, calm down! We’ll find her!" Chip said.
       Percival opened the door. "I’m not sure what’s become of her, but I know a good place to start." Percival pulled out Agnes’ business card she’d left with him. "Let’s go talk to her editor, Jeff Hill."
       Dale was as agitated as Monty was angry. "Yeah, we gotta find my Aunt Agnes!" In a remarkable display of self-control, Monty reigned in his anger. "Chip, I’m trustin’ ya to take charge here. I’m in no frame o’ mind to think right, right about now."
       Chip took the card from Percival. "Okay, let’s go check it out. Are you with us, Percival?" Percival saluted. "For Agnes, I’ll go to the ends of the earth."
       In a few minutes the Rangers and Percival were in the air. The trip to New York couldn’t go too quickly for Monty, and Gadget found that she was as concerned about Monty’s anger as she had been about his self-punishment. Soon they set down and got directions to the International Mouse-O-Graphic. Miranda’s face paled a bit when she saw Monty’s expression.
       "May...may I help you?" Miranda asked. Monty leaned forward till he was almost nose to nose with her. "We’re the Rescue Rangers and we’re here to see yer boss!"
       Miranda was flustered, but managed to speak "I...I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait. He’s in a meeting right now."
       Chip knew what was coming next. "Monty, wait!" Too late. Monty moved past her and threw open the door to Jeff Hill’s office. Seven heads turned to see a wild-looking Australian mouse. "All right, everyone out! The meetin’s over and I just made an emergency appointment with Mr. Hill! You can leave by the door or the window—now get out all o’ ya!"
       Mice and squirrels ran out of the room, leaving the Rangers and Jeff alone. The editor was put-out to say the least. "Who do you think you are? Miranda, call security and...." Percival was amused at the whole thing, and strode in casually. "That won’t be necessary, Jeff. We’re here about Agnes. She’s disappeared." Jeff still had his paw on the phone.
       "And why should I believe that?" Jeff barked.
       "Because I’m Percival Alistair Montgomery, and I’ll be dashed if I’ll lie about a friend like Agnes!" Percival said. Jeff dropped the phone. "Montgomery? Then there is some trouble! Wait, aren’t you that other person I told her to go see? Mortimer Jack or something?"
       Monty was still in a foul mood. "That’s Monterey Jack. Monterey! Agnes is gone missin’ and we gotta find her!" Jeff scowled in thought. "You’re the only two I told her to go see. If she’s not with either of you, then maybe she went back to her hotel."
       Miranda anticipated her boss’ words and had the record pulled up. "She’s staying at the Walmouse Astoria, room 518."
       Monty reached out and shook Jeff’s hand. "That’s mighty obliging o’ ya’, thanks." Monty quickly turned and hurried out of the office. Jeff ran out behind him. "If you hear anything, let me know! Ace is a special friend!"
       Percival shook Jeff’s hand as the group began to trail after Monty. "Right-o, Jeff! I think Monty won’t rest until he’s seen her!" Jeff walked out into the hall with Percival. "I think you’re right. Good to meet you, Percival." Jeff watched them go, and then went back in and grabbed the phone.
       "Walmouse Astoria? Get me the manager...Greg? Jeff. There’s a group coming over to check on Agnes Oakmont’s room. Give them every cooperation, okay? Thanks, Greg. You’re a pal," Jeff said. He hung up the receiver and looked at the story posters on the wall. "What have you gotten yourself into now, Ace?"
       Thanks to Jeff’s help, the manager was waiting at the desk when they arrived. "My name is Greg Casey. Can I help you?" the manager said. Monty was about to open his mouth when Chip jumped in front of him.
       "Yes, we’re searching for Agnes Oakmont," Chip said. Dale jumped in front of both of them. "Yeah, I’m her nephew, Dale. We’re all really worried that something might have happened to her!" Greg grabbed the keys to room 518 and motioned for them to follow him. "Right this way, friends. Jeff called ahead and said you’d be coming. Has there been some kind of trouble?"
       "We’re not sure. Hopefully she’s just in her room. We can’t seem to find her," Chip said. Greg showed them to an ornate elevator, where they met the concierge.
       "Allen, have you seen Miss Oakmont return?" Greg asked. "No, sir. I’d have noticed her--hard not too, right?" Allen replied. Chip watched to make sure Monty wouldn’t jump the fellow, and thankfully he didn’t. Greg nodded his understanding. "She might have come up without you noticing, still. Ask the fifth floor staff while I show these people to her room."
       "At once, sir," Allen replied.
       They reached the fifth floor quickly, and just as quickly made their way to room 518. Greg knocked on the door—no answer. "Miss Oakmont? Are you there? Okay, hold on everyone..." Greg inserted the master key and they went in. Everything seemed to be in order.
       Monty turned to Greg. "Look fella, if anyone complains that we’re here just tell ‘em we threatened ya’. Now we gotta look for clues." Chip put his hands on Monty to stop him. "Monty, you better let me do this. You’re still far too upset to deal with this! Just sit down and relax."
       Monty sat on the bed, but he was anything but relaxed. Chip and the others pored over everything--her address book, briefcase, itinerary. Nothing seemed to provide a clue. Then they turned to a trunk in the corner
       "Is that trunk Aunt Agnes’?" Chip asked. "Yes," Greg said. "It’s heavy too. Took three bellboys to haul it up. I don’t have a way to get you into that." Chip smiled confidently, and looked to his brilliant teammate. "Allow me," Gadget said as she removed a small device from her pocket and after a few moments the lock popped open.
       "Nice work, Gadget," Chip said. Everyone gathered around as Chip opened the lid up full. The chest was full of bound collections of papers.
       Chip picked up the first one. "Three Nights in Nairobi."
       "How I Met Prince Ratkin of Russia," Gadget read.
       Percival picked up another manuscript. "I’d wager this is a good one—The Nights of Paris."
       Dale saw one and snatched it up immediately. "Wowie-zowie! A Collection of Tales From Bianca Râboga. Hey, these are all stories!"
       Monty looked over the mass of papers. "Crikey, I guess she’s a bit more prolific than I thought. I wonder if she wrote about me?" A thought occurred to Percival and he began searching through the collections. "Here it is!" Percival held up a manuscript and brought it to the bed. "Look at the title—The Rose and the Brie—that’s got to be about her experiences. Maybe this will help."
       Monty had the impulse to tear the book away and read it himself, but he allowed Percival the reading honors. Percival pulled out a pince-nez and began reading.
       "May 2, 1985--I have joined a group on a mission to Brie to regain a vial containing the dangerous ebola virus. There are three of us in all--N doesn’t think that we could get a bigger group through. Percival Montgomery--or Percy for short--is a dapper young mouse with impeccable manners and tastes. It’s a shame he’s married or he’d make an interesting choice." Percival blushed slightly and kept reading. "The chipmunk known as Ramrod is a mystery to me. His eyes rarely leave me and I can feel him staring into my back when we’re in a room together."
       Monty grew livid. "That fiend! He’d had eyes fer Agnes all along and just wanted her fer himself! He didn’t love her at all! He told me she had agreed to marry him. I’m gonna make him eat every word he said to me!" Monty punched his fist and imagined what he’d do to Ramrod if he ever caught him.
       "Take it easy, Monty! We’ll make sure she’s okay," Gadget said. She could see that keeping Monty calm was going to be a tough task.
       Percival returned to the book. "May 5th, 1985--We arrived at a farmhouse this morning. I caught Percy drawing a picture of me while I was writing this and made him show it to me. He’s a great artist and I’m sure he’ll be famous someday. I told him to make sure to turn this drawing into a painting. Ramrod grows more impenetrable with every passing day. One minute he seems the picture of order, but the next it’s as if he were another person. That other side of him is the one I’m watching out for. I think if he ever felt crossed, there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to get what he wanted."
       Gadget spoke gently to Monty in an attempt to keep his temper in check. Percival was about to continue, then noticed a bulge in the pages. "Hey, Monty. You may want to take a look at this." Monty took the book, and felt the bulge as well. Curious, he turned the pages over and suddenly a smell filled his nostrils.
       "What’s that? Smells like perfume..." Dale said.
       Monty turned the pages but he already knew what was there. "Oy--a special kind. The roses of Brie were known for their bouquet." Monty opened the journal fully, and stared. The rose that he had so long ago given his beloved was there. It had dried over the years, perhaps paralleling their relationship. But it was still there, ready to give evidence of the beauty of its creation. Monty was having trouble holding back the tears.
       "Monty, what is it?" Gadget asked. Monty hardly heard Gadget’s question. He was transfixed by the symbol of love in front of him. "Agnes, luv, ya never did ferget me." Monty wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.
       Gadget grinned softly and repeated her question. Monty showed the rose a bit more in her direction. "Gadget, I gave that there rose to Agnes when you were just a wee tyke."
       "And she kept it all this time! Golly, that’s sweet," Gadget said.
       Monty’s vision blurred a bit. "That was the day that we fell in love."
       Chip observed the precious relic. "I wonder why she put it there, and not in a frame or something?"
       Monty began reading the page.
       "May 7, 1985 -- I am, perhaps for the first time in my life, really in love. I must admit I never thought it would be with a mouse from Australia, but Monzy fascinated me from the beginning. He is a mouse of the world, yet has a home he carries in his heart. I feel at home around him—anchored. I have not felt so in a very long time. From the time PaPa took me to see my grandparents in Rouen, I have not experienced this kind of belonging. He has a way of putting me at ease that I find refreshing and yet exciting. When we danced this afternoon, I did not wish to stop. I can still hear the music of the tango in my mind. I know that I will never be happy until I am with him always! I pray that this awful time really does end soon, and Monzy and I can meet in Paris."
       Monty was crying now. "Oh, Agnes...I luvs ya too." Everyone in the room was choked up a bit.
       "That’s so beautiful...." Gadget managed.
       Meanwhile, a thought had been scratching at Percival’s mind. He asked for the journal, and flipped back to Agnes’ earlier entry about when they had just arrived. Percival re-read the words and suddenly he flashed back to the conversation he’d had with Roy in the park and it fell together.
       "Oh, no...I think it’s him...." Percival said.
       "Who? What?" Dale asked.
       Monty’s brow creased in a combination of concern and anger. "HIM?"
       Percival pursed his lips. "He’d do it--if he was that obsessed about her and everything we’ve seen leads us to think it. And not two hours ago I talked to a young squirrel in the park who mentioned that he’d talked to another stranger--a foreigner."
       "What was the squirrel’s name?" Chip asked.
       "Where would he have taken her?" Dale followed.
       "I’ll tear this town apart lookin’ fer her if I have ta!" Monty vowed.
       Percival took the thoughts in order. "The young lad’s name was Roy, but that’s not the point at the moment. The point is, everything points to one person—Ramrod."
       "Who’s Ramrod really?" Gadget asked. "I mean, that’s not his real name, is it?"
       Percival shrugged. "Alas, we never really knew. He only went by his codename. Ramrod was a strange one, though. He kept to himself and when I would inquire about his personal life or family, he would clam up. He would occasionally speak in strange sentences too."
       "Strange? How?" Gadget pressed.
       Monty was consumed with anger. "Ramrod’s only the slimiest snake to ever draw breath."
       Percival did his best to ignore Monty. "Strange in structure. Sometimes he would mix up his nouns and verbs. It was one of Rob’s comments about that which makes me now suspect Ramrod. Rob said that he’d said something like, ‘I am for the Rangers’ tree looking’."
       Dale looked confused. "But why would he be backwards talking?" Something stirred in Chip’s memory. "Wait! In the Sureluck Jones story ‘The Counterfeit Count’, there’s a count that talks like that and Jones figured out that someone who was so ‘unkind to his verbs’ was German!"
       Monty drew a breath. "German? Chip, we’re talkin’ about secret agents here, not mystery writers!" Dale was instantly afraid for his relative. "Aunt Agnes has been captured by a crazed mystery writer?!?"
       Percival threw up his hands. "Merciful heavens, why didn’t I see it! Die dunkel meuchelmörder—the highly-trained German assassin squad of the R.O.D.E.N.T.S.! No wonder Ramrod kept mentioning them. They were recovering their own spy! Of course, it makes perfect sense!"
       "But we still don’t know where he’s taken her," Gadget said.
       Percival’s face lost a bit of its shine. "That’s true. And Ramrod--whoever he is--is no fool. He’s a plotter, and will have come up with a detailed plan for this operation. He’s likely been tailing Agnes for some time now, waiting for circumstances to fall into his favor."
       "But how did he know she was coming here today?" Chip asked. Percival thought about it. "Ramrod was the best intelligence agent we had. He’d likely have informants watching her every move."
       "Yes, an intelligence network sounds likely," Chip agreed. "But where would he take her? Surely he’d be noticed in any public area!"
       Dale pulled off the bedspread and draped it over himself. "Maybe he wore a cunning disguise. He is a secret agent, after all!"
       "Well, what else do we know about Ramrod? How does he work?" Gadget asked. Percival’s face darkened. "He’s cold and calculating. He’ll do everything he can to persuade Agnes to marry him, and when he fails...."Percival couldn’t help looking to Monty.
       "And when he fails he’s gonna see me comin’ to her Rescue!" Monty said defiantly. Chip stood next to Monty. "He’s going to see all of us coming! We’ve got to figure this out. Ramrod wanted Agnes--he trailed her, captured her and took her somewhere. He’d be thinking about that night in Brie. Wouldn’t that influence his decision?"
       Monty had a realization. "Crikey, that night had a big influence on us all! But if he’s that twisted maybe he’d do something like what happened that night."
       "Would he take her to France?" Dale asked. "Nothing so dramatic, most likely," Percival replied. "But there are cheese warehouses in the city I trust?"
       Monty snapped his fingers. "More than you could shake two sticks at! But lucky fer us I know ‘em all. What are we waitin’ for? Rescue Rangers away!"
       Chip had to admire the older mouse, as Monty took the lead. Percy bid the group farewell as he went to R.A.S.C.A.L.S. headquarters at the UN to obtain help. Gadget caught up with Chip as they all did their best to keep up with Monty. "Chip! Would this Ramrod be that obvious?" Gadget asked.
       "Sureluck Jones said that crime is like a quilt in the attic. Its patterns are old and time-honored. Anyway, it’s a place to start!" Chip said. The Rangers rushed out of the hotel as Gary waved goodbye to them. Soon they were on their way to the docks.

Chapter Six - Love is Madness, Love is the Only Sanity

       Agnes’ emerald eyes opened. She had been unconscious for some time, but she had no idea how long. She tried to ask for help, but realized she was gagged. A soft yet tough material bound her arms and legs to the velvet-lined chair she was sitting in. As her mind began to clear, she found that she was staring at--herself.
       On all the walls, there were pictures of her. The walls themselves were black, so as to accentuate the photographs of her, which were spotlighted. Many of the pictures she recognized immediately from the signature pages of the International Mouse-O-Graphic. Others seemed to have been clandestinely taken of her. They were from different time periods and locations.
       **Whoever this is, they’re persistent,** Agnes thought.
       Agnes began studying the photos and trying to remember where they were all from. Perhaps one of them held the clue to who was behind all of this. Agnes looked at the pictures with a mixture of shock and disbelief. They turned out to be images of some of the most important and personal moments of her life.
       She made an involuntary gasp when she saw a family photo of her with her brother Duncan and his family, and in her arms she held a very young Dale. She blinked away her tears at the sight. "Dale, I should have been there for you more often."
       She knew that Dale would never have put her in this kind of predicament. But who would? Slowly she studied the photos, and she stopped at the one in Russia. She was in a fur parka, standing near some shacks in Siberia. She had been forced to negotiate with the local mouse potentate to interview the mice who were struggling to survive. At the end of the story, the potentate wanted to confiscate everything she’d written because of the negative tone the stories took on. Several of the Siberian mice smuggled her and her photographer out of the area during one night of terror. They had just been able to make it to the Siberian Express ahead of the potentate’s men. In her mind’s eye, she could still see them, waving their swords at her in anger. Still, she was a long way from Siberia, and that was years ago.
       **Besides, Ratkin wasn’t the type to go out of his way. Look where he was,** Agnes reasoned.
       Her eyes continued to search, and fell on the picture from the Lisbon papers of her being chased by a human toreador at the bullfight she’d attended in Pamplona. It was part of her vacation in the south of Europe, and she’d never seen a bullfight--and after that, she’d jokingly said that once was once too many.
       The toreador had come out in all his splendor and had performed brilliantly. The lovely senoritas threw red roses to him. Unfortunately, one of those roses had landed short and plonked right on Agnes’ head. That set her off, and she went into her trance, jumping right into the bullfight ring and dancing the tango. Suddenly, the cheers changed to laughter. The toreador was confused, and began looking around for the trouble. When he found it, his temper was riled--toreadors are after all some of the more egotistical types on the planet.
       A well-meaning Spanish mouse jumped from the stands and grabbed her, trying to get her out of harm’s way. But Agnes was too strong and they ended up dancing a very adversarial brand of tango. The toreador charged, and the mouse finally managed to arm Agnes up and they ran through a small hole in the wooden door as he threw the sword. It missed, but the toreador hit the door hard. The laughter still rang in her mind, and Agnes had no doubt that if that toreador knew who and where she was, he would exact some measure of revenge. But again, long ago and far away.
       Agnes knew she had made some enemies over the years, but why would they have followed her all this time taking pictures of her?
       **And who would be so annoying as to take these pictures?** Agnes mused, and then she stopped on a particular photo and had to smile in spite of her immediate situation. The picture was of Grantley Garrison—"the world’s biggest pest" as she’d dubbed him. The mouse was a positive leech, and had the single worst talent that anyone can be endowed with--the power of the boring conversationalist. She’d met Grantley at the awards banquet where she won her first Ace Award. Grantley had won one as well for the London newspaper he worked for. Agnes had come up and congratulated him, and that was all he’d needed.
       "I say, did you know that the first dozen Ace Award winners were French?" Grantley asked. Agnes shook her head.
       "Well, let me tell you! The French have the worst food you can imagine. Don’t even go to Paris! Did you know that Paris has a mean humidity of 63 percent? Of course, that doesn’t compare with the Amazon. Were you aware that the Amazon has the most species of plants and animals on Earth? And what a collection of birds! Of course, the best place to see birds is at the Royal Zoo in London. Did you know that the only purple cockatoo in captivity is there? And then there’s the replica of the Sureluck Jones museum...."
       Agnes spent the next two hours listening to trivia on every country on Earth and everything under the sun that lived there. As she thought back, she realized that Grantley wasn’t vindictive, but simply aggressively boring. She’d finally been rescued by Jeff, who had whisked her away
       The idea of someone being vindictive shifted her mind in a totally different direction. She looked again at the photos, and in the lower left corner she spotted one that was older than the others. It was the official group shot that had been taken of her, Percival and Ramrod when they’d been at R.A.S.C.A.L. headquarters in Whitehall.
       **Ramrod. Now there’s someone who could be vindictive.**
       Agnes let her mind slip back to her time at Brie. Ramrod and Percy had both seemed quite nice at first. But once the mission started, Agnes could immediately see that there was something quirky about Ramrod, like an instrument that was out of tune. When they rested, she could feel him watching her. His demeanor was cold, yet calculating. And one time, a French peasant had come running up to them, asking for help. Ramrod had not only treated the peasant rudely, he had searched the mouse under gunpoint.
       Percy had apologized afterward, but the mouse had been embarrassed and angered--as had Agnes. Then Ramrod had done something that had surprised her. The next night, they arrived at a farmhouse and Ramrod told them he would scout around. When he returned, he came back with a box of chocolates and a soft blanket for Agnes. He’d apologized for his rash behavior earlier and explained it was due to training. Agnes was amazed at the change in him, and Ramrod had begun to open up some around her. The next day, they reached the cheese warehouse. She could perfectly remember the conversations that day.
       "Percy, check out the area and make sure there’s no hostiles," Ramrod said.
       Percival saluted. "Right, sir." Percival went off to reconnoiter, and Ramrod opened the door to the warehouse.
       Ramrod looked around with satisfaction. "Good--it’s deserted. Come on in Agnes." Agnes followed him in. "Thank you, my friend. Ah, this place could even be charming if not for our reason for being here!"
       "My family has friends that are in the cheese business. I remember all the free samples I had to eat as a boy," Ramrod said, dusting off some cheese crates. "Front row seats. No waiting."
       Agnes smiled at Ramrod. "The service here is magnificent, waiter. Perhaps my friend and I could have some cheese?" Ramrod opened a large crate. "Mais oui, mademoiselle. Would you like brie, brie, or perhaps brie?"
       Agnes giggled. "I think I would rather have brie instead. Come, sit with me Ramrod. How did you get such a name as ‘Ramrod’, anyway?" Ramrod sat down, a bit nervous at being so near to Agnes. "It was the nickname the boys gave me during training. They said I was so obsessed with duty that whenever it was my turn to command, I was a real ‘Ramrod’. They were right."
       "A man of duty from birth, that is so charming. What is your life like outside of mission and duty?" Agnes asked. Ramrod hesitated for a few moments. "I have been tutored since a young age. My parents did not approve of me fraternizing with other children, so my life has essentially been study and duty. Sometimes I prefer it that way--the world has been so wasted."
       Agnes picked up her journal and made a few notes. "This mission could certainly make one believe that, but there is so much beauty out there—so much life and happiness! It’s threats to life like these that make us appreciate all the good things we take for granted."
       Ramrod pulled out a pipe and began smoking it. "Agnes, you’re an idealist. But you’re young--you’ll soon learn that the world is never black or white. It’s always grey and just when you think you’ve found something you can trust it vanishes."
       Agnes stopping writing and looked at him curiously. "What happened to you that made you so fatalistic? Surely there was a time in your life when the world was not so dark and cold?"
       Ramrod look away from her. "Maybe...once. But anyone who bases their dreams on the past is a fool. We must be realistic and face the here and now. It might would be better for the decadent world if someone like the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. took over--at least then there would be some semblance of order."
       Agnes had a look of horror on her face. "Surely you cannot mean that! The R.O.D.E.N.T.S. are evil incarnate, they kill, destroy and steal. They do not represent order, they are chaos masquerading as order! They will take all that is good in the world and corrupt it. They must be stopped, for the good of all."
       Ramrod laughed and Agnes shivered when she did. "You only say that because the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. have committed to using extreme measures. But animals have been using the same means for ages. It is simply that this so-called ‘progress’ has moved our minds to want more, faster and quicker. But that leads to waste. The R.O.D.E.N.T.S.’ philosophy is to minimize waste and maximize efficiency--two goods we have been living by ever since we became civilized."
       Agnes looked at him, dismayed. Ramrod held up a hand. "Now don’t take on so, Agnes! It’s just my philosophy teacher talking. I know the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. must be defeated. I can admire their thinking, but disagree with their means simultaneously." Agnes appeared somewhat relieved. "I worried that perhaps you had sympathy for the enemy, forgive me."
       Ramrod ate his ration of cheese. "Not at all--the R.O.D.E.N.T.S. have lofty ideals, but they have no scruples. Their goal is to disrupt the world, but this one-sided target of the world is not enough. One must be balanced--ideals cannot be placed above everything--especially the company of a lovely young lady."
       Agnes blushed at his compliment. "And I should not be so quick to jump to conclusions in the company of a handsome young munk." Ramrod smiled and saluted her hand. Then he turned toward the door. "Percy must be looking for me by now. Philosophy says that only a madman could rule the world. Some day, I may apply for the job." Ramrod left quickly, leaving Agnes to contemplate what he had said
       A terrible picture began to form in her mind as she looked at these photos. A picture of a madman that had followed her for nearly half her life. Ramrod was every bit as cold, calculating and ruthless as any R.O.D.E.N.T. agent she had ever encountered. He’d finally taken that step and become the madman that he said he would. He desired her and had hunted her all these years without giving the slightest hint of his presence. He had spun the web and now she was trapped.
       Suddenly, a door opened behind her and two rats entered the room. They checked her bonds, and then pointed to the pictures. "Do you like the pics? We had them put up for you special so’s you wouldn’t feel your accommodations were second rate! Right, Harve?"
       "Right, Dan! After all, it’s not every day that we get to ransom so beautiful a captive!" Harve said as they removed her gag.
       "Go ahead and yell--the soundproofing’s in place now," Dan said.
       Agnes muttered some things in French that shouldn’t be translated. "Who do you vermin work for? What is this ransom you speak of?" Harve laughed heartily. "We’re self-employed, Miss Oakmont! After all, entrepreneurship is the best thing that’s happened to the modern business world!"
       "We’re here in the extortion business, Agnes--if I may call you Agnes. You will be well-treated, provided your boss comes through with the gold bullion that will be your ticket to freedom," Dan added.
       Agnes grabbed a thought and decided to play a wild card. It was worth a try. "Jeff will pay the ransom, of that there is no doubt. But where is your boss, Ramrod?"
       "Oh, he.." Harve started. .
       Dan slapped his mouth. "Harve, you idiot!"
       An overhead loudspeaker came on, and a voice sounded over it. "Never mind, gentlemen. She would have learned the truth, if she has not already. You are excused." Dan and Harve left, downtrodden.
       "Let me congratulate you, Agnes. You are more perceptive than I realized. How fortunate..for me!" the voice said. Agnes frowned hard. She knew that voice all too well. "So! It is you, you wicked fiend! You lied to Monzy all those years ago! Your evil kept me apart from my true love all these long, lonely years!"
       The voice turned angry. "You cannot fool me, Agnes! It took me a long time to figure it out, but I know your secret now. And soon there will be nothing--or more importantly--no one to come between us!"
       Agnes didn’t like the sound of that. "Come between us?!? What do you think you have figured out, you monster?" The loudspeaker filled with laughter, and then shut off. Agnes struggled with her bonds, then gave up in frustration. Her frustration was slowly turning to fear. No one knew where she was or who had her...or what Ramrod had planned for her.,
       "Monzy, where are you my love? You must come for me…" Agnes began sobbing lightly. "You are my only hope."
       Monty was breathing hard, but still managed to keep the lead to the docks. The words spoken so long ago by Sparky came to Chip’s mind, and he found the words better applied to Monty--nothing can stop a motivated mouse. Monty was certainly that—the Rangers had been hard-pressed to stay with him. The salt air filled their lungs now as they approached the city docks. They were a mixture of old tin buildings, long wooden piers and eccentric characters.
       Monty motioned to the others. "Come on, blokes! Pier eight’s the one we want. Ol’ Sharky will know if anyone’s been around."
       The Rangers followed the motivated mouse to the pier in question. Forklifts held large crates of cheddar, swiss, brie, and mozzarella among others. Monty made straight for the far side of the pier, where a seedy-looking rat was holding court with several other dock-walloping mice.
       The rat named Sharky was so-named for his toothy grin and his predatorial-looking features. His voice was gravelly, and nothing on the docks happened without his knowledge. Monty raised an arm as he approached. "Ahoy, Sharky, mate! We’re needin’ your help mighty bad!"
       "Monty, you old sea salt! What you be doing down here this time ‘o day? Must be something terr’ble to pull you and your mates down ‘ere!" Sharky said.
       Monty came up next to the rat. Sharky was a little bigger than Monty, but not more husky. "Mate, you have no idea. We need your help somethin’ awful. We’re lookin’ for two chipmunks—one’s a cold lookin’ cuss and the other is beautiful enough to make you believe that angels walk among us."
       Sharky raised an eyebrow. He pulled the three rats with him aside and they conferenced a minute. "No pretty chipmunk’s been seen ‘round ‘ere, but Cutter ‘ere says a lubber crew came through this mornin’, all secretive-like. They could be the ones."
       Monty shook Sharky’s hand brusquely. "Sounds like a good place ta start. Did ya happen to see where they went?" Sharky spoke low with Cutter again. "Cutter ‘ere’s gonna lead you to where he saw the lubbers go. You’re a good mate, so if ya need help you know where Sharky Cortone is."
       Cutter led the Rangers through a rusty abandoned building and then the sea rat stopped and pointed. His voice was nearly a match for old Sharky’s. "I saw ‘em go through right there, the old cheese storage warehouse across the way. Better watch your step--they look loaded for whale."
       "Thanks mate, we owe you and Sharky a big one for this," Monty said, patting the rat on the back and then headed toward the warehouse with the Rangers close behind. Chip caught up with Monty and began walking backwards in front of him so he could face him. "Monty, we can’t just waltz in here, we need to be careful! This may just be a trap."
       Monty’s face was steeled in determination. "It’s not a waltz, Chip. It’s more of a tango..."
       Gadget, like Chip, was for discretion. "Well, if they are waiting for us we could see if there’s a back way in..." Monty just pushed on and entered the building, oblivious to any dangers. "Or we could just go in," Gadget said flatly. She turned on her miner’s lamp, attached to the miner’s hat she had inexplicably brought with her. Chip sighed and joined Gadget. "He’ll be okay. Let’s get after him!"
       The Rangers slipped into the shadowy interior of the warehouse. It was huge--almost endless by Ranger perspective. Stacks of unevenly-piled crates stood high throughout the building. There were several sets of stairs along the sides of the building and a catwalk above with office space on either end.
       "Wow! You could play hide-and-seek in here and win every time!" Dale said, his voice echoing. Chip shushed him. "We’d better stick together, this smells like a trap." Monty didn’t care. "Trap or no, we got a no good, dirty chipmunk to find and he’s got somethin’ very special to me. Uh, no offense mates, that didn’t come out right."
       "No offense, Monty. He’s no example of my kind," Chip said generously. An instant later, the massive structure was filled with a voice that Agnes had been arguing with only minutes before. "I see your manners have not improved, my ponderous Australian."
       Monty’s paws balled up into fists. He spoke through clenched teeth. "Show yerself ya bloomin’ traitor an’ tell me what you did with my Agnes!" Chip leaned close to his chiroptic comrade. "Foxglove, use your sonar to locate the source of that voice."
       Ramrod’s voice had a taunting sound to it. "I am touched that you and your friends would come to visit. I regret that it will be the last visit you will make anywhere!"
       The Rangers looked around and begin collectively moving toward a defensible position. "Where’s Agnes?" Monty shouted. "Show yourself so I can break one of your bones for each year ya kept us apart!"
       Suddenly, the doors of the warehouse shut, echoing loudly. Gadget’s light and the skylights high above were the only illumination. Chip turned back to Foxglove. "Any luck yet?" Foxglove shook her head. "The noise must be coming over several loudspeakers. I can’t get a precise fix."
       "I am sure you have many questions, Monty. We have some time before your demise, so I will be glad to answer them," Ramrod said. Unlike Monty, Dale’s voice revealed desperation. "What did you do to my Aunt Agnes?!"
       "She better be safe or so help me, tonight is your last night on this earth!" Monty yelled.
       "What are your plans for us and for Agnes?" Chip demanded.
       "How you be so selfish as to come between two people who were in love?" Foxglove asked.
       "You weren’t loved as a child, were you?" Gadget added.
       Zipper buzzed his disapproval of Ramrod and everything he stood for.
       Ramrod’s voice was unmoved, though he allowed the German accent to come through now. "First, my real name as you may have guessed is not Ramrod. I was born Georg Udet, the son of a wealthy aristocrat in the Rhine valley region. I only went to the best schools, and when I left home I had the choice of several careers. However, my beloved philosophy teacher gave me something for which I will always be grateful—a disdain for the lofty goals of others. The R.O.D.E.N.T.S. shared my philosophy, so I joined their organization and eventually earned the honor of joining their elite assassin squad. I spent several years of my adolescence in England and developed a masterful accent and knowledge of British culture and customs." The British accent returned. "I was a regular blighter from London, eh old bean?" Ramrod laughed, the noise echoing maddeningly.
       "I’m gonna hurt you real good," Monty said darkly.
       The noise in the warehouse did not reach Agnes’ soundproofed room. But she could tell something was up when Ramrod strode in with a high degree of excitement.
       "He’s here, isn’t he?" Agnes asked expectantly.
       Ramrod was nonchalant. "He is indeed. And soon I will lay him at your feet!" Much to Ramrod’s surprise, Agnes let out a triumphant laugh. "I knew that my Monzy would come to my rescue! You think you will overcome him? Ha! You will lay at his feet very soon!"
       Agnes continued. "The Rescue Rangers are with him, no doubt. They will deal with your henchmen. Then after you are defeated, Monzy will come through that door and will take me in his arms and we will kiss with all the passion and intensity of that first kiss we shared so many years ago. Then, if my dreams come true, Monzy will ask me to be his bride!"
       Ramrod nearly laughed himself. "I know you, my little pigeon! You use him as an excuse to deny the truth, but soon you’ll realize that you were always meant for me."
       Agnes’ look was pure poison. "If not for your madness and evil, Monzy and I would have been together a lifetime ago." Agnes spit in Ramrod’s face. Ramrod wiped the spit from his face and Agnes thought he would strike her. Instead, he laughed bitterly. "Put on all the airs you wish, my sweet. I know he and his friends have poisoned your mind. But when I kill him, you will see that I, Georg Udet, am your true love!" Ramrod said.
       Agnes stared at him in disbelief for a few moments, then laughed again—this time sarcastically. "YOU? IN LOVE WITH YOU? I would rather die with Monty than spend one more second with you! I disliked you from the moment I met you and now that your true colors are revealed I can only hate you!"
       Ramrod smiled a smile so sinister than even Agnes dreaded the sight of it. "Soon, my dear. Soon you will realize the truth. But enough for now. When I return, you can meet your Monty--or what’s left of him." Ramrod did a curt about-face and left the room, shuffling his left leg as he went. Agnes had a bold sneer on her face. "Monzy will rescue me, Ramrod."
       The Rangers were running out of options. "Let’s try the other side of the warehouse! There’s got to be a clue as to where he is!" Chip said.
       Ramrod was still taunting them. "I know that you think you are in love with her, Monty. But you have deluded her, and now you must pay for that! I will enjoy every moment."
       Monty was looking everywhere, getting in a worse and worse mood. "I don’t know what you are more, a bigger fool or a bigger coward!" Slowly the group moved in the direction of the sound of the voice, aided by Foxglove’s excellent hearing.
       Dale was getting concerned now. "Monty, maybe it’s not such a good idea to keep taunting him like that."
       "You will all pay--you, your friends, all of you. If you hadn’t poked your face into my affairs all those years ago, I would have been happy! Now I will be happy. But as Genghis Khan said, ‘It is not enough that I win. My enemies must be made to suffer.’ So it will be with you," Ramrod said.
       Foxglove had to partly cover her ears as they approached the far side of the warehouse and the loudspeaker spurting Ramrod’s words. She pointed up to a series of office suites on the second floor. Chip’s eyes narrowed. "I don’t like this. There should have been an encounter of some kind by now. Keep moving." The group climbed the stairs toward the offices
       "We’re coming for you, Ramrod!" Monty challenged.
       "Aunt Agnes better be safe or you’ll be sorry!" Dale added.
       Ramrod’s voice was now blaring at them. "I want you to know the pain and suffering you’ve caused me, Monty. It took me a long time to plan a satisfying demise for you, but I finally came up with an appropriate forum. You do recognize the symbolism of the cheese warehouse, I trust?"
       Gadget pulled out a pair of wire cutters and deactivated the loudspeaker. "There! Now let’s find him!"
       Ramrod’s last words were still echoing in Monty’s mind. "Yeah, it’s where you broke Agnes’ heart...and mine."
       Chip walked up to the main door of the office. It was cracked open a bit. "He’s got to be waiting for us in there. Wish you’d brought your plunger gun at least, Gadget." The group walked in slowly, then a corridor appeared going off to their left and right. Ramrod could be heard to the right. Monty barged ahead madly in search for Ramrod and Agnes. Chip pulled out his magnifying glass and began looking for clues. Foxglove took up and aerial and auditory search of the office. Dale frantically searched everywhere, and Gadget began following the wires that the speaker was attached to.
       Then the ingenious mouse pointed up. "Look! The wires go along the ceiling to that last room at the end of the hall."
       "It’s got to be a trick, or a trap. Must be," Chip said.
       Dale was only thinking of his Aunt. "Do we rush him? He might hurt Agnes!"
       Monty rolled up his sleeves. "Step aside, mates. I got a date with destiny!" Monty’s face took on a mask of grim determination and he began slowly walking toward the door.
       "Be careful, Monty! There’s no telling what mood he’s in!" Gadget said.
       Monty was too focused on his objective to hear Gadget’s words. He picked up his pace and continues toward the door. Chip tried to caution him, "If you bust down that door, he might do something dreadful to Agnes. We’ve got to be careful!"
       "I don’t think he’s listening..." Dale said, running to keep up. "Monty, wait up!"
       Zipper tried to hold Monty back, naturally to no avail.
       Foxglove flew down next to Chip. "But Chip, he’s going to do something bad to her if we don’t do anything!"
       Chip knew she was right. "Well, if we’re going then we’re going as a team! Rescue Rangers, away!"
       Ramrod had been speaking all this time, but now his words seemed to egg them on. "I’ve been waiting fifteen years for this moment, and now finally I’m about to have my moment in the sun! Come to me, Monty! Come if you dare! I am back!"
       "I DARE!!!" Monty yelled at the top of his lungs, as he hit the door full force. The door gave way under Monty’s strength and the Rangers were right behind.
       Dale had his fists up. "All right, where is he!?"
       Ramrod did not seem moved at their entrance. "I know you won’t disappoint me old bean, because I certainly won’t disappoint you."
       Monty’s eyes flashed and looked everywhere. "Show yourself you coward, if YOU dare!"
       Gadget’s eyes followed the wiring. "Up on the wall! It’’s..."
       Chip saw it. "No! A tape recorder!" Chip said. "He’s been leading us on a wild goose chase!" Monty picked up a doorstop and hurled it mightily at the recorder. It struck and the recorder crashed to the ground. Chip circled the machine then stopped on the far side.
       "Look!" Chip said. There was another tape taped to the body of the recorder. "Let’s switch it out!"
       Monty popped the old tape out and helped to pull the other one free of the masking tape. "Now let’s see what else that no-good skunk’s got ta say."
       Ramrod’s voice returned. "Ah, you have arrived at last. I hope my first tape was not too much of a bother for you. By now you know that I have intentionally brought you to this room. There is of course a reason for that. Go to the wall opposite the window, and you will find a concealed door. Go through, and you will be in a cargo elevator. Push the button for the basement level, and once you are there proceed 50 meters until you come to a junction to your left. When you are there, wait. You will be met."
       Monty headed for the concealed door. "Time for action...enough talking. It’s the end for you, Ramrod."
       Again Gadget was pained to hear Monty speak such things. Chip had to stop him. "Monty, wait!"
       Dale helped Chip. "He’s setting us up!"
       Gadget ran over to Monty, who was already testing the wall. "Monty, you’ve got to keep a level head! He’s trying to make you play on his terms."
       Dale felt helpless and wanted some reassurance. "Come on, Chip! We’re counting on you here—you have to outthink the master plotter, and hurry!"
       Chip knew what Dale said was true. "The only problem is, he’s holding the high card at the moment. We need a way to tip the odds in our favor." Then Chip seized a thought.
       "Gadget, can you rig something to be used as a diversion?" Chip asked.
       Gadget took off her helmet. "I could use the spare battery for my lamp to create a flashburn. Would that do?"
       Chip nodded. "Get it ready. We’ll go and meet him, but not the way he plans on it."
       Dale didn’t like the way they were being led into this. "Maybe we should split up and see if there is another way down besides the elevator?"
       Chip had considered that. "Possibly. I don’t like the idea of splitting up though unless we have to. We’ll likely be outnumbered as it is."
       Monty was getting tired of listening. "Would you make yer minds up? Agnes is down there somewhere!"
       "We can’t just run in there! That’s what Ramrod wants! We’ve got to think this through," Chip said.
       Gadget thought some more. "Well, I might could use that electrical wiring from the loudspeaker to electrify the floor of the elevator. Then if we could lure them onto the metal partition they’d be knocked out. But we’d need insulators for our feet."
       The others noticed that Dale had an unusually thoughtful look on his face. Dale’s mind sorted through the uncountable spy movies he has seen. Then he knew what had bothered him--the villain always trapped the elevator.
       "Ramrod’s already trapped the elevator. Maybe we can use the traps against him!" Dale suggested.
       Gadget studied the idea a moment, then approved. "Hmm...let’s check it out. Monty, have you found the entrance yet?"
       "Two minutes ago! I’ve been waitin’ fer the lot o’ you to make up yer minds!" Monty opened the secret panel to the freight elevator and the Rangers stepped inside warily. Everything appeared normal.
       "There doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary...." Chip said.
       Gadget took her time and gave the elevator a good once-over. Then something caught her eye. "Hey, there’s a wire painted to look the same silver color as the wall. It’s coming from the elevator button and it leads to the ceiling. Check it out, Foxy..."
       Foxglove flew up to the ceiling and with Zipper’s help tipped up the paneling. She gasped.
       "What is it, lass?" Monty asked.

Chapter Seven - Never Say Never At All

       Ramrod rubbed his hands expectantly. "The remote device I planted in the elevator shows that they are on their way. Pity for them it will be a one-way trip!" Ramrod signaled to Hans, his right-hand mouse, to take a group to the elevator. Hans and his team left the room where Ramrod was stationed. The team of seven mice were all dressed in black, with black ski masks on. Hans was the largest—a muscular type and no nonsense. They carried mouse-sized weapons--mostly staffs and knives. When they reached the elevator, Hans signaled for them to stand ready. The group got out of any possible line of fire as Hans pushed the button and opened the door. They need not have bothered--everyone was unconscious.
       "Good, zey are out like a light!" Hans said. "Quickly, gather them up and bind them! The master will want to speak to them as soon as they wake!"
       In moments, Chip, Dale and Monty had their hands bound behind their backs and were carried off. Once the sounds of footsteps faded, a keen eye would have seen one of the ceiling tiles move. A blue eye peeked out to find the coast was clear.
       "It worked, they’re gone," Gadget said. Gadget closed the ceiling tile and turned to Foxglove, who was with her. "It’s a good thing you spotted that gas canister. If I hadn’t shut it off, we’d all have been unconscious for real!"
       Foxy leaned back against a wheel casing, collecting her thoughts. "Aunt Agnes and all the others are counting on us. We can’t let them down," Foxy spoke with surprising resolve. She lowered the rope to the floor of the elevator.
       Gadget grabbed Foxy’s arm. "We can’t go down that way! They might have a sentinel. Quick, get the rope back up and we’ll use the escape hatch in the shaft. We can’t afford to be seen. I just hope Ramrod doesn’t discover the others were acting and guesses what we’ve got in store for him." Gadget started to go and then stopped at the canisters. "Wait! We can use this to our advantage and prevent Ramrod or his men from getting away. Foxglove, help me push the lever and reactivate the gas canister!"
       Together Foxy and Gadget managed to reactivate the canister without releasing any of the offending gas inside. Afterwards, Foxy followed Gadget’s lead and they made their way out of the elevator shaft and into the connecting corridor. "How do we know where we’re going, Gadget?" Foxy asked, trying to keep her voice low.
       Gadget spoke softly as well. "Simple! Architects always lay out air conditioning systems in a pre-ordered fashion. They have to in order to fit the vents in the building. We’re in the main vent right now--there should be at least one junction ahead around 50 meters or so. We may have to guess at which port to come out, but we should be able to find the room where Agnes is without too much trouble."
       Foxglove felt her adrenaline rushing, and the words of a movie she’d just watched with Dale ran through her head. "Good evening, Foxglove. Your mission should you decide to accept it is to rescue your Aunt Agnes from a psychotic R.O.D.E.N.T. spy who’s obsessed with her and save your teammates from him as well..." The Mission Impossible theme song began running through her head as she followed Gadget through the duct work.
       Chip, Dale and Monty were tied up securely to solid oak chairs seated at a large oaken table. Dale decided to chance it and cracked an eyelid. The room was quite ornate considering it was under an old warehouse. The room was a mixture of dark greens and rustic reds, quite what one would expect for someone with eccentric yet classic tastes. Two bronze statues guarded a display of swords just above an oversized fireplace mantle that dominated the wall near the captives. Beyond that, on the opposite right wall a large door of redwood was shut. The only other door was directly opposite the trio.
       Dale’s eyes began to open slowly as smelling salts ran under his nose.
       "Ah, I see you are none the worse for wear," Ramrod said. "Good. Then you’ll be able to answer a few questions."
       Dale snapped back to consciousness, and saw that Chip and Monty were next to him, both gagged. "Do you expect me to talk?" Dale said, unbelieving.
       "No, Mister Oakmont, I expect you to die!" Ramrod replied.
       Hans interrupted the conversation. "Master, were zhere not more of zis group zan three?"
       Ramrod shrugged with indifference. "If there are others, they are of no consequence. See that they don’t interfere, though."
       Hans bowed and selected two mice to go with him. "Now, where were we?"
       Dale leered at him. "I had just said ‘Do you expect me to talk?’ and you replied ‘No, I expect you to die!’"
       "Ah yes. But not too quickly. No, that would be bad form. Death, like all other parts of life must be weighed carefully. Besides, I want you all to savor your inability to rescue the beautiful damsel in question. Failure is a bitter herb that burns when savored slowly, and I intend for you all to get a full taste of it!" Ramrod said icily.
       Dale was immovable. "Well, I’ll have to take a raincheck on the slow death part. As for the beautiful damsel, that’s my Aunt Agnes. We’re here to rescue her, so why don’t you be a good little psychotic maniac and release her and us and we can take you to a nice place where there will be nice people to help you with your problems?"
       Ramrod laughed, as if enjoying the joke. "If you were not going to die shortly, I should enjoy having you around. But you are not the one I truly wish to torment."
       Ramrod walked over behind Monty, who was gagged and tied down double to his chair. He leaned over, almost breathing in Monty’s ear. "This must be so hard for you, Monty. You who enjoyed taking her affections from me, poisoning her mind against me! Well, in the end you have proven to be only second-best! Now what do you say to that?"
       Monty quickly turned and bit Ramrod’s nose through the gag.
       "Yarrgh!" Ramrod slapped Monty’s face and his cool veneer vanished. "Very well! If you don’t want to cower, then we will get down to business. I know you, my foe. Your own life would mean too little to you. But what about those of your comrades here?"
       Dale strained against his bonds. "Well, you can try to kill me. Many have tried, all have failed. I live a charmed life. My guardian angel is packin’ heat."
       Ramrod pushed Monty’s chair away and stormed over to Dale, turning him around. "So you have no fear, chipmunk? Then why don’t you and I play a game? Are you prepared to risk your life and the life of your allies on the outcome?"
       Dale gave him a smug smile. "Mister, you just met the master gamester. There ain’t no game you can play that I can’t beat you at! When I’m through with you, Aunt Agnes and all the Rangers are walking out of here."
       Ramrod turned quickly from him, agitated. He looked round the room--it was an ornate room set up with his favorite memorabilia. Ramrod’s eyes locked on the mantelpiece, and he smiled wickedly. "Verner, untie him," Ramrod said.
       The mouse guard next to Ramrod looked at him curiously. Ramrod suddenly lost his temper and pushed Verner to the floor. "Befolgen Sie mich!! I gave you an order! Untie the little braggart! We shall play the ultimate game, and if he wins he and his friends can go free. If not, they will die by the same blade that I will dispatch him with!"
       As Verner rose and complied, Ramrod pulled down two ornate swords from above the mantelpiece. "Now, my overconfident fool, prepare to meet your doom...."
       Hans and his minions had been quick to obey Ramrod’s orders. They had left the room and had turned the corner to go up the elevator. Meanwhile, Gadget and Foxglove had encountered a dead end and had to backtrack, despite Gadget’s assurances. They had found the correct junction and were proceeding forward.
       "I hear something down there! I think it’s the bad ‘uns!" Foxglove whispered.
       Gadget shushed her and whispered, "They might hear us. Go ahead slowly, but keep quiet!"
       Foxglove did her best to comply, but one thing neither she nor Gadget had counted on was the accumulation of dust in the air vent. Foxy had managed to handle it up to now, but then Gadget kicked up a bunch of dust as she neared a corner. That was all it took, unfortunately.
       "G..Gadget! I’m gonna sn..snee.." Foxy said.
       Gadget turned and was at once alarmed. "Foxy! Try to hold it in!"
       Hans looked upward as the elevator door opened. "Did either of you hear something?" The other guard mice shrugged.
       Foxy was tearing badly. "I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m....I’m....AH-CHOOOO!"
       Hans ran out of the door just as he and the others were about to go up. "It’s the females! Zey must be trying to effect an escape through the air vents. Gekommen!" Hans ran to a nearby air duct and with his comrades’ help pulled it off the wall. Gadget and Foxy were immediately aware of the invasion as the sound of metal echoed through the vent
       "Oh, no! They heard us. Run!" Gadget shouted.
       Gadget and Foxy began to scramble back to the elevator shaft. Hans and the other two mice had pulled out ropes and tied them together with a hook at the end. Then Hans threw the hook, and it echoed nastily at the top of the shaft. Soon the trio was climbing upward.
       Foxy was flying next to Gadget. "What’ll we do, Gadget? They’ll be on us any minute!" Gadget’s brain went into overdrive. "The gas! Of course--all we have to do is flood the air vent with the gas! We’ll need some flexible tubing and a rod. C’mon!"
       Hans’ muscles strained, but finally he made it to the top. "They could not have gone far!" The trio ran to the junction and listened. They heard the far-off sound of voices, and followed quickly.
       Gadget and Foxy found the tubing they needed in the material used to feed the lubricants to the elevator’s gears. They grunted with the effort, but a three-foot piece of plastic tubing came free. Gadget brought it over to the gas canister’s release valve. Foxy had already found a loose metal rod.
       "I think I can hear them coming! We’ve gotta hurry!" Foxy said.
       Gadget attached the tubing. "We’re almost there! Get me a little of that grease around the cables!" Foxy brought a wingful of grease and Gadget packed it around the opening of the tube to form a seal around the release valve. She and Foxy then ran the other end into the shaft.
       Hans turned the corner and motioned the others on. "Zey are just ahead! I can hear them!"
       "Now, Foxy!" Gadget shouted.
       Gadget and Foxglove took a deep breath, activated the canister’s release valve and grabbed the rod. They had jammed the tubing carrying the gas into a fingerhole in the shaft’s lid. Then the guards turned the corner and they were face to face.
       "Erfassen Sie sie!" Hans ordered. "Get them!"
       It took everything Gadget and Foxy had, but they moved the shaft lid as the gas came out and forced the rod in place, securing it against some of the equipment. Hans and the others beat on the cover, and after a minute the beating stopped and three thumps were head echoing in the shaft. Gadget turned off the gas, and she and Foxy breathed hard.
       "How long can you hold your breath? Do you think you can make it all the way through the shaft?" Gadget asked.
       "Long enough!" Foxy said. "Let’s do it!"
       Gadget and Foxy drew another breath and headed past the guards, disarming them as they went. They were soon beyond the gas’ range and with the knowledge of where to go this time, they made fast progress. Finally, Gadget gave a thumbs-up and they breathed hard, leaning over with their hands on their knees.
       "That..that gas will keep them out at least an hour. I hope the boys are doing okay..." Gadget said.
       Ramrod had rolled up his sleeves and was doing stretching exercises to prepare. Dale had taken a few practice swipes with his blade, enjoying the balance of it. "I hope you have fenced before, chipmunk. I will enjoy it more if you make it interesting."
       Dale took up his sword. "Quit flapping your gums and let’s get this show on the road!"
       Ramrod took a piece of paper and cut it cleanly with his blade. Then he and Dale proceeded to the makeshift arena in the room that had been cleared. They took their positions, and their swords touched lightly.
       "I’ll have you know I am a Heidelberg fencing champion," Ramrod said.
       "I wouldn’t think they’d allow fencing on a blimp," Dale taunted.
       "Enough! On guard!" Ramrod roared.
       Ramrod came in fast and hard, befitting the temper he was in. Dale made sure not to react to that. He’d done what he’d set out to do—get Ramrod emotional. "Did I mention that I learned my best moves from watching the movie ‘Princess Bride?’ You fight pretty good. You must have seen that movie too."
       Ramrod was furious. "Insolent buffoon! I will enjoy your cries for mercy!"
       Ramrod tried to skewer Dale, but the valiant chipmunk was far too experienced for that. He sidestepped the attempt, and slapped Ramrod on the rear with the flat side of his sword. "Sorry, I didn’t mean to get ‘cheeky’," Dale said coyly.
       Monty finally managed to bite through his gag. "Attaway, Dale! Soften ‘im up for when I get a hold of ‘im!"
       All this time, Agnes had not known what was happening. The soundproofed room kept her isolated and in the dark. However, the kidnappers had overlooked one major flaw—the air duct—and it opened, startling Agnes.
       "Mes amis! You managed to get through! But where is Monzy?" Agnes asked eagerly.
       Gadget ran over and began untying her as Foxglove listened at the door. "He’s right outside! We’ll get you free and then we’ve got another surprise for Ramrod!"
       Unnoticed by the henchmen, Zipper had appeared from under Chip’s hat. He’d been all but forgotten and had managed to untie Chip. The fly was now working with Monty’s bonds.
       Ramrod was in a fury. "You insult a swordsman this way? I will show no mercy!"
       "How SHOULD I insult a swordsman?" Dale knew he had the advantage and pressed it. "How about, ‘I don’t know which is worse, your fencing or that awful German accent.’"
       Ramrod pressed the attack again, but Dale had his measure. Dale had practiced daily while this arrogant chipmunk had obviously coasted. He easily fought off the attack
       "You remind me of my father," Dale said.
       Ramrod parried his attack with difficulty. "How is that?"
       "He couldn’t beat me either," Dale quipped.
       Ramrod saw he was up against a superior opponent, and decided to win any way he could. As Dale pressed in, Ramrod drew a concealed knife with a jewel-encrusted handle and stabbed Dale’s sword-arm. "Now, my pompous one, will you say surrender?"
       Dale screamed in pain, dropping his sword. Ramrod drew back his blade and prepared to press his ill-gotten advantage. Then the door to Agnes’ room burst open and Gadget appeared with something in her hands. "Hey! How about you say cheese, instead!" she shouted.
       Zipper had just gotten Monty free when Gadget appeared. While she was upstairs, Gadget had disassembled her miner’s hat and with a few spare parts had constructed a camera. The Rangers knew what Gadget’s xenon camera would do, and instantly covered their eyes. The camera went off, and all the goons in the room and Ramrod were blinded instantly. Ramrod had seen the flash coming, and managed to close one eye. Still, the effect was there and he yelled out, swinging wildly with his sword.
       "Dale!" Foxy said. Agnes and Foxy ran over to him while the others tied up the disabled goons. "Mon pauvre Dale! Are you all right?" Agnes asked. Dale glanced at his injured arm. It was bad, but not life threatening.
       "I’m fine, good you’re both safe. Now let’s finish this fight!" Dale struggled to get to his feet.
       Ramrod’s eyes recovered to show that all his guards were incapacitated. He pointed his sword at Dale once more. "You’ve all managed to ruin my plans! But I shall have my pound of flesh from this one."
       Agnes slipped her foot under Dale’s fallen sword. She flipped it into the air and caught it, then she pointed it at the erstwhile villain. "Let us dance, Ramrod."
       Ramrod stepped back a bit at the sight of this. He’d had no inkling that Agnes was even capable of fighting. He still saw her as the young girl he’d remembered. "Return his sword, Agnes! You are mine--you cannot be lost for a mere fight."
       Agnes used his hesitation to strike. "I will have my pound of flesh for the years you have kept me from my precious Monzy!"
       Ramrod was at once in a panic. His instincts told him to fight, but his heart was screaming with him to yield. "Agnes! Agnes, you have been deluded by them! I am the only one who has been so devoted! I followed you from city to city! I secured a job at the International Mouse-O-Graphic in their mail office so I could know when you would return! I have never stopped being devoted to you. Never!"
       Agnes kept pressing her attacks. "You hunted me! Stalked me! You came between me and the man I loved because you are selfish and jealous! You wanted me all for yourself. You didn’t care about my happiness. I have spent nearly half my life pining for Monzy, nights beyond counting I have cried over losing him! It was all your doing, you wicked, evil man!"
       The words from Agnes finally hit home, striking him harder than any saber thrust. "NO! No, you cannot reject me! Not after all this! I have worked and planned so long for this day!"
       Agnes was beating him down. Her voice was calmer, but firm. "I now and forever love only Monzy. He has treasured my memory in his heart all these years and now we will be together at long last."
       From deep inside, the mask of superiority that had kept Ramrod in check broke apart. He growled in sheer animosity, and leaped into the air with his sword held high. "If I cannot have you, no one will!" Agnes sidestepped the attack. Ramrod’s sword embedded itself in the wooden floor. Ramrod pulled on the sword mightily, but it would not come up. And then Agnes came over and put her foot on it. Ramrod looked up at her, and whatever it is that can be said to give a chipmunk sanity fled from Ramrod’s mind as he looked. He began to shake and he eyes glazed over.
       "…I am the only....the only...the only. No, no, no…" Ramrod said, then he fell over and no longer said anything—not that his mind would allow him to say it even if he had.
       Monty grabbed Ramrod’s sword and pulled it out of the floor. "There can be only one. And that one’s me."
       Dale was shocked as Monty raised the sword. "NO! Don’t do it, Monty!"
       Monty turned to Dale in surprise. "Do what, Dale?" He handed over the sword to Dale.
       "Oh, I thought you were going to chop off his head," Dale said.
       Monty looked at the pitiful form on the floor. "No, mate. He’s punished ‘imself far more than I could. Besides, I have better things to do with my time."
       Monty turned his attention to Agnes, who had suddenly realized it was over. "Aggie, thank heavens you’re safe." Agnes didn’t respond, she just rushed up to Monty and threw her arms around him and kissed him.
       The Rangers had been engrossed in securing Ramrod and making sure the criminals weren’t getting away. But this scene made them all pay attention. Dale just stood and gawked. Chip blushed, and Gadget reflexively covered the wide grin on her face with her hand. Foxy didn’t bother covering hers--she just watched and marveled. Zipper buzzed contentedly.
       "Now that was worth fifteen years of waiting, mon cher. Shall we try again?" Agnes asked.
       "Sure thing, Agnes luv. Seein’ as how we have over fifteen years of missed kissin’ to make up for," Monty said, chuckling.
       Agnes giggled and for the two of them, nothing else in the universe existed. They embraced again and time seemed to stop--or rather to go backwards. They both could remember that first moment of love, and it was like it had happened only a moment ago
       Agnes felt peaceful for the first time since she could remember. All the wounds were sealed, all the cracks repaired. "Love is eternal, is it not Monzy?"
       "It is at that. I love you right now as much as I loved you that day in France all those years ago. I’m a bit older, a bit wider, but nothin’ else has changed! I been carryin’ a torch for you for so long me fur is singed," Monty said. Agnes laughed and kissed him again.
       The reunion was so moving, that all the Rangers were totally concentrating on the two lovers. Ramrod used the distraction to jerk himself free from Chip and Dale, who had been holding him. Before they could recover, Ramrod made it to a secret compartment in the wall. From the interior, he pulled out a plastic vial that Monty recognized immediately
       "Crikey! He's got the vial! Careful with that, Ramrod!" Monty warned.
       Ramrod held the vial in the air like a thunderbolt of Zeus. "You've ruined everything! Everything! You dare to shame and dishonor me! Well, no one shall know! I have here the ebola virus I so carefully saved from our little excursion. The plastic container preserved it from the fire, but I carefully transferred it to one of glass. Now, prepare to die in agony!"
       Ramrod pulled back his arm and aimed for Monty's chest. Monty raised his arms defensively and the vial shattered, several shards of glass cutting his arm. Ramrod laughed cruelly. "Ha! The virus has entered your body through those wounds. Soon you will die a death too horrible to imagine and now neither of us will have the fair Agnes!"
       Monty had a look of desperate shock on his face. This was it? He was to die now, when he'd just approached his dream? He wanted to hold Agnes, but was afraid of infecting her. "NO!" Monty bellowed in rage and charged at Ramrod. He drew his fist back and gave Ramrod a powerful punch to the face that sent the chipmunk staggering back. Monty grabbed the shaken chipmunk and pulled him forward and then jerked him into a crushing headlock. Then he looked to his lady love.
       "Aggie, I'm sorry it had ta be this way, but I wouldn't trade anything fer the happiness we had. I just wish we'd had longer...." Monty said.
       Agnes walked up to Monty, and reached for him as Monty drew back.. "Monzy, we have all the time in the world." Monty didn't release his grip. "But you know what was in that vial! Now get out or here while ya can!"
       Agnes chuckled and smiled knowingly. "Yes, Percy told me what was in that vial. But why are you afraid of a little tap water?"
       Monty dropped Ramrod, who collapsed to the floor gasping. "T..tap water? Are you sure you're all right, luv? Oh, no! It must be affecting ya!" Monty began to get all nervous, checking her vital signs. "Oh, why didn't I listen to ya, ma, and study ta be a doctor?!"
       Agnes kissed Monty, and laughed. "That is what I love about you—your concern for others. That's not the vial that you brought us. The real vial got to its destination! That one was the phony one that Ramrod wanted R.A.S.C.A.L.S. to have. Percy switched them back without Ramrod noticing."
       Monty stood there aghast. "But..but how did all this happen? An’ if it's the one that Ramrod had, how d’ya know it’s harmless?"
       "I didn't know about until Percy told me when I visited him. Percy overheard Ramrod tell his cohorts about it and Percy told me. I was kidnapped by Ramrod before I had a chance to tell you about it!" Agnes said.
       Ramrod's mouth dropped open and even as he was about to stand he fell back to the floor, writhing. No! Nooooooooo! No, it isn't fair! I sprayed him with water! Water! Braaagh!"
       Ramrod began to laugh terribly, as his eyes glazed over and he assumed a fetal position. Chip and Dale secured Ramrod again, and Agnes rushed to Monty and kissed him ardently.
       "Now that’s what I call a kiss!" Sharky said. The group had not even noticed the old salt at the door, accompanied by several uniformed men. "These blokes say they’re from R.A.S.C.A.L.S. an’ someone named Percival sent them." Sharky tilted his battered sailor’s hat. "We’ve already found the others who were outside--they were tryin’ to commandeer one of our boats. They told us where to find the lot ‘o you!" The R.A.S.C.A.L.S. agents picked up Ramrod and the goons and carted them out.
       Ramrod was straining against his bonds as the agents held him. The once-intelligent chipmunk had a hysterical look to him now. "I am the Heidelberg champion! I am the greatest spy of them all!"
       Sharky raised an eye to that. "Aye? That and two bits will get you a ticket to the funny farm! Have fun, Monty me lad!" They left, dragging the mad villain with them who was spouting about water and swordplay.
       Monty almost felt sorry for Ramrod. Almost. "Good ol’ Percy! He came through for us. So Agnes, what happens now?" Agnes let herself relax. "Well, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t eaten in ages! How’s about we go to your place and whip us up a cheese soufflé?"
       Monty looked at Dale’s arm. "Come on lad, we’ll stop by the hospital on the way home and get your arm looked at, and then we’ll all have a well deserved celebration. We gotta invite Percy and yer boss Jeff too!"
       Agnes had taken another sword from the mantel and had cut the table’s linen covering into strips for Dale and Monty’s arms. "And what about your own arm, mon cher? You are cut in several places as well!"
       "Aw, I’ve cut meself worse slicin’ cheese," Monty said. Monty started to leave, but then he caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. He gasped and walked past everyone. Amidst the clutter of Ramrod’s obsession was a timeworn victrola. "Crikey! Could it be?"
       He opened the lid and saw the old scratchy record—the tango that he and Agnes had danced to so many years ago. Monty wound it up and the old record player still had life in it. Agnes was beginning to cry for joy as Monty came over.
       Monty bowed low. "May I have this dance?"
       Agnes took his hand. "Why certainly! My, the orchestra is certainly top-notch tonight!"
       Dale used his good arm to grab the sword he’d fought with for a souvenir as Monty and Agnes began to dance the tango. Agnes was leaning on Monty, a thing she’d dreamed of a hundred times--as had he. Monty was still trying to convince himself that this was real, it had all happened so quickly. Then Agnes leaned her head against him and all doubt was removed. He could see it all again--the orchestra, the stars--everything was in its right place
       Monty led her across the room. "I must remember to tip them extra tonight..." Agnes laughed softly as the Rangers looked on, content to revel in their friends’ happiness "Still, you’d think after nearly fifteen years they’d have learned another song…." Monty quipped.

Chapter Eight - Love Heals All Wounds, Even Time

       Once Dale and Monty were checked over at the hospital, the Rangers started toward the treehouse. Agnes ran up and grabbed Chip’s arm. "Wait, mon guilleret! We must see someone first!"
       "Who?" Chip asked.
       Agnes started off. "No time to explain! Allez-y!"
       Chip and the others shrugged their shoulders--all except Monty. He knew full well where Agnes was headed. After the boat landed at New York, a knock on a familiar door brought grumbling sounds from inside. Monty had to pinch himself to keep from shouting. Two eyes appeared at the slot in the door
       Percival peered out. "Yes, yes? Who is it?"
       "It’s me, Percival, Mate! Open up!" Monty said.
       Agnes stepped up. "Yes, we are here as you requested...and I hope for the reason you suggested!"
       The door opened quickly, and Percival embraced both of them. "Bully! Get in here and let’s have a palaver!"
       Monty gave Percival a bear hug, lifting him off the ground. "Agnes ‘ere says that we owe all this to you, mate! If that be the case then we both owe you a debt so big that it can’t ever be repaid!"
       Percival started to turn blue and Monty looked a bit sheepish as he put him down. Percy straightened his dressing-gown. "Well, you certainly know how to make a bloke feel wanted! It’s fortuitous that you two came now--you may owe me a debt, but I still know that I should have done something about Ramrod all that time ago."
       Agnes gently hugged Percival. "The past is past and what is, is. You have brought Monzy and I back together and made our broken hearts whole once more. We shall never be alone again."
       Monty hugged Agnes to make the circuit complete. "She’s right, mate. I’ve had a Agnes-shaped hole in me heart for all these years and thanks to you it’s been filled."
       Percival smiled warmly at the couple, taking their hands. "I am glad to have finally rectified that moment of weakness. But come, I have something for you." Percy looked at Agnes with a glint in his eye. "I told you it was fortuitous you came today. Do you remember what day this is?"
       "Well, It’s May...7th," Monty said blankly.
       Percy smirked a bit. "Does that day not ring a bell? Perhaps a fifteen-year-old one?"
       Monty looked sheepish. "I don’t rightly recall."
       Agnes smiled and grabbed Monty and they began dancing the tango. "Does this help you to remember?" Moments later they stop dancing and kiss yet again.
       Monty laughed softly. "Oh, yeah. Now I remember."
       Percival walked over to two paintings that hung on the wall, covered with drop cloths. "Something else happened that day, and now we can commemorate it properly. Voila!" Percival pulled back the cloths to reveal two canvases. One held the beautiful image of the young Agnes, the other the young Monty.
       "Crikey! I sure was a handsome fella back then," Monty said. Agnes hugged him again. "Monzy, what do you mean "back then?" You are as handsome as the day I first met you."
       Monty looked at the painting of the young Agnes, and marveled. "Agnes, you’re even more beautiful than you were then," he confessed.
       "As they say in France, mon petit chou, wine and beauty get better with age," Agnes replied.
       Percy put his hands on both their shoulders. "As does the bonds between old friends. Hear, hear!" Percival went to a nearby closet, and brings out a bottle of Cabernet and a wedge of cheese.
       "And you have the wine for a toast!" Agnes said.
       Percival brought out the glasses and everyone raised their own. "I rarely partake any more, but for old friends it’s too good an opportunity. To Monty and Agnes--may their love never fade, their friends remain faithful, and their lives be filled with adventures...."
       Monty took the piece of cheese offered him, but he looked uneasily at it and set it down. "I think I’ll take a raincheck on the cheese, mate. I don’t feel quite hungry right now."
       All the Rangers stared at Monty in utter astonishment. "Golly, I never thought I’d see the day you wouldn’t eat cheese, Monty!" Gadget said.
       "Maybe he’s been replaced by Ditz," Dale said. "Uh, how about some urkburgles, Di...Monty?"
       Percy looked at them all curiously. "What is this all about?"
       Chip took off his fedora and scratched his head. "Well, for as long as we’ve known him, any time Monty’s around cheese he has these cheese attacks. He loses total control!"
       "Not total control mate!" Monty countered. The Rangers stared him down. "Well.....most of it......all right, all of it! But it’s strange--it’s like the cheese doesn’t send me no more."
       Agnes looked at Monty curiously. "Monzy, you did not go for the cheese much when I knew you...."
       Chip snapped his fingers. "Of course! Mental association! Agnes, you dance when you’re around roses, right?"
       Agnes blushed a bit. "Oui..."
       Chip ran out the door and came back in a couple of minutes with a red rose. "For you, Agnes!"
       Agnes held up a hand in panic. "No, Chip!’’s lovely!" Agnes smelled the flower and remained normal.
       Chip had a look of great satisfaction on his face. "See? You two were traumatized by being apart! When you got back together, the mental association of the brie and the rose left!"
       Monty was amazed at the revelation. "Crikey! All this time it was my longin’ for Agnes that made me eat so much cheese?" He patted his stomach.
       Agnes hugged Monty tightly. "Never fear, Monzy, my love. There is all the more of you to love." They kissed again.
       The Rangers laughed a little, but then each one came over and congratulated Monty and Agnes. Percival wrapped up the paintings in the cloths and prepared them for travel. Monty smiled at Percival. "One thing before we go, mate." Monty took Agnes’ hand and got down on one knee in front of her. "Agnes, I should have asked you this fifteen years ago, but will you marry me?"
       Agnes looked at him with a whimsical smile. Dale was all gleeful inside. "Monzy, you do take your time asking a lady. Still, you know the answer. Oui, yes! Yes, my love!" Agnes cried. She leaned down and hugged Monty tightly.
       Monty stood and lifted Agnes off the ground. "Agnes, you know how to make a fella feel good! Thanks, luv."
       Percival was enjoying the entire thing and it was as if he was back in that quaint warehouse again, watching them wrestle. "Well, you two have plans to make and I have paintings to do. It has been a pleasure seeing both of you."
       "Maybe we should move this party back to HQ. We got plans to make and people to call, we gotta get me mom and dad here," Monty said. The Aussie suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Me mom and dad, well, they may need some talkin’ too about this." Agnes looked slightly concerned but hid it instantly. She kissed Percival goodbye. "Let us go then! Bon soir, Percy!"
       Percival kissed her on the cheek. "Farewell, Agnes!"
       The trip to Ranger Headquarters went quickly. Gadget and Agnes did most of the talking--mainly wedding preparations. Dale elbowed Chip half the way there out of sheer pleasure. Instead of bonking him, Chip shifted to the other side of Foxy--he’d let him be Soon headquarters was abuzz with activity
       A few hours later, the three chipmunks and Gadget had gone out to prepare for the evening meal. Roger and Jennifer had taken the kids to their home for the day to make things easier on the parents. Monty was sitting on the couch when he saw Dale come in with a load of snacks. He’d been waiting for just such a moment, and he didn’t know when it might come this opportunely again "Uh, comin’ ta watch the show, eh?"
       Dale plopped down, spreading chips everywhere. "Oh yeah! Never miss an episode of "Misery Science Theater"!"
       Monty fidgeted a bit. "Er, how’s yer arm mate?"
       Dale held up the bandaged area. "The doc said it’s going to be fine. Good as new in a couple of weeks!"
       Monty appeared slightly relieved. "Good, good. Uh, say Dale...would ya mind answerin’ a question fer me?"
       Dale chomped away. "Sure Monty. What’s on your mind?"
       Monty had never been good at leading up to things, but he still felt he shouldn’t just blurt things out to his friend. Dale was still unaware of Monty’s discomfort and was starting to get involved in the show "Uh, well, if ya had a know, a good friend and they did somethin’ that you thought was strange, would you go along with it if they had a good explanation?"
       Dale was getting suspicious, Monty was starting to talk like him. He realized it must be serious. "Monty, is something wrong?"
       Monty was very uncomfortable now. "Well, look! I don’t know how to say this, ‘cause I’m not the askin’ type. What I’m trying to say is...well, do you approve of yer aunt and me gettin’ married!"
       Whatever Dale was expecting, it wasn’t that. "You’re asking for my blessing? Dale smiled. "Monty, I give this marriage my 100% endorsement! You two go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Like ice cream and a cone. Like...well, other things that go great together!"
       Monty breathed out hard. "Whew, that’s a relief! I hadn’t felt so tied up inside since the finals of the kangaroo races back home! I didn’t know what you’d think, yer aunt marryin’ ol’ Monterey."
       Dale leaned back and attacked the popcorn. "Monty, we’ve been through thick and thin together. You’re brave, loyal and heroic. Aunt Agnes couldn’t have found a better guy than you!"
       "Lad, I’m right glad ya feel that way. I’ll treat her like the queen she is, now and always. Say, this means the Erskines and the Oakmonts’ll be related now!" Monty said. Monty’s words got him thinking, and suddenly a frown crossed his face
       "What’s wrong?" Dale asked between bites.
       Monty grabbed for a bite himself. "I just remembered--me parents. I’m not sure how they’ll take this. Dad’ll prob’ly be glad to see me hitchin’ up with someone at last. Me mum’s always been picky, though--I don’t know what she’ll think..."
       Dale wasn’t worried. "Well, your mom and dad are great people. How could anyone not love Aunt Agnes?"
       Monty had to admit he had a point. "I’m sure they will, mate. They’re both just set in their ways, though. I may have to explain about marryin’, well...."
       "An Oakmont?" Dale asked.
       "More general than that, pally. I think they always expected me to marry a mouse. This may take them off-guard a bit. But don’t misunderstand, Dale--I love her as the day is long. I jus’ don’t want ya takin’ it the wrong way if they are a bit…surprised at first," Monty said.
       Dale gave him a thumbs-up. "Monty, don’t worry. I married a bat, remember? I’m sure mom and dad were surprised at first." Monty patted Dale on the shoulder. "Ye’ve got yer Aunt’s spunk all right, mate. It’ll be all right. I’m glad ta get a nephew like you."
       "And it’s great to have you as an uncle—Uncle Monty!"
       Monty got up, picked up Dale and bear hugged him, spilling the snacks everywhere.. The Rangers made it back an hour or so later, bringing back foodstuff for the night’s repast. To help with the celebration, Tammy cooked up a cheeseless meal and the others sat around the table too excited to do much of anything for the time being. Agnes stared at the silent mouse next to her. "Monzy, why did you look ill at ease when you spoke of your mama and papa?" Monty looked uneasy. "Well, I don’t rightly know how they’re gonna react when I tell ‘em I’m marryin’ a chipmunk, that’s all."
       Agnes’ eyes narrowed a bit. She’d thought that might be it. "And what is wrong with marrying a chipmunk?"
       Chip tried to change the conversation. "Well, all in all I think things turned out fine. After all you could have married Desiree..."Chip was sorry the moment he’d mentioned the name, but the looks exchanged between Monty and Agnes were all too clear
       "Monzy, a word with you outside?" Agnes asked. Monty gave Chip a withering glance, then resigned himself to it. "Okay, Agnes, luv."
       The two of them walked out and Dale raced to the door, concerned. "They’re gonna fight? Oh, don’t blow it Monty!"
       Monty could think of a thousand cities and even more locales he’d like to be more than this one. Still, this conversation had to come sooner or later. "Agnes, about Desiree..."
       Agnes’ face was a mixture of mild anger and hurt. "Monzy, didn’t even try to contact me! And to find out you were marrying that..that two-timing tramp!" Monty cringed at her stinging remark. "Agnes, I thought I had killed the man you were gonna marry. I was devastated! How could I face you believin’ that? After I got back to Paris, I just continued my cheese tour. Only now I started havin’ my cheese attacks whenever I got a whiff of the stuff. Then along comes Desiree—she was beautiful, almost as beautiful as you. She had that beautiful accent, almost as beautiful as yours, she pretended to love me, not like the way you really loved me. I had lost the real thing, so I grabbed the closest thing I thought I’d ever find to the real thing. And my life very nearly came ta ruin because of it."
       Agnes’ face changed from one of anger to one to sympathy. She came over and hugged him. "Oh, Monzy! We have both suffered so much!"
       Dale breathed easy inside the door. "Whew! Thought things were going to get bad there.."
       Agnes was quiet for a moment. "What is it, lass?" Monty asked. "Monzy, there’s one thing we have not finished discussing and it’s something I dearly want," she said.
       Monty was lost. "What’s that?"
       "Children," she said, looking at him again.
       Monty was taken by surprise. The thought scared and excited him at the same time. " sure you want kids, lass? After all, you’ve been a lone wolf all yer life..."
       Agnes nodded. "Monty, we’ve both been lone wolves. Perhaps the time has come to settle down. Part of what drove us to be alone was our being separated all those years ago. If we had stayed together we might have settled down a long time ago. But now we can adopt and start a family. Just think Monzy, you’d be a dad rather than an uncle!"
       Monty took Agnes in his arms. "I...I don’t know what to say, lass. I’ve been on me own for so long, and now the thought of you and little ones. It’s like...a bloomin’ miracle. Agnes touched his face. "Well, Dale told me that you described me as an angel from heaven walking among us."
       Monty blushed a bright crimson. "Did he say that? I shoulda known he’d tell ya. Well ya are, Aggie, and there’s no denyin’ it. We’ll find a bit or two out there who need lovin’!"
       Agnes hugged Monty. "That’s great, Monty! It’s been worth the wait to be with you again. Now I have everything I could ever want in life."
       Monty held her close. "So do I, luv. So do I."
       Agnes paused a moment. "So, what do you really think your parents have to say about all this?" Monty didn’t even want to think of it. "Well, dad will probably think I lost me mind, and mom, I can’t rightly say. I reckon that she’ll worry that you’re not good enough for me but she’d say that about any lady I know, so don’t take it personal."
       Agnes took a seat on a lawn chair. "Hmm...sounds like my parents. Before I met you, there were several suitors for my hand at home and abroad. My folks were the ‘gatekeepers’ so to speak. I tell you what--you work on your mother and I will take on your father."
       Agnes looked up at him and winked. Monty rolled his eyes. "Don’t say I didn’t warn ya’. He’s a handful and a half." Agnes’ smile grew wider. "He is the one that’s going to need help! I’m at least three handfuls!" Agnes was quiet for a moment and Monty saw that she was preoccupied
       Monty guided his beloved back to the lawn chair and sat down with her. "We gotta track them two down first. No tellin’ where in the world they are right now. But don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll take a likin’ to you right quick. Who couldn’t love the likes o’ you?"
       Agnes giggled a little. "Well, there was that bullfighter in Pamplona, but hopefully that won’t happen again. I suspect Jeff can track them down for us. He’s got contacts around the world."
       Monty had liked Jeff in the brief time he’d met him. "Oh, yeah. We gotta invite him ta the weddin’ and all. Say, is yer friend Jeff married?" Agnes thought a moment. "Not the last I heard. Why? Are you thinking of adopting him?"
       Monty gave her a sly smile. "No, but we have a lady friend who we could put next to him at the reception." Agnes could see the mischief in Monty’s eyes. "Playing the matchmaker, eh? Who’s the target?"
       "She’s Tammy’s mom, Donna Chesnutt. It might be nice for her to meet someone and get outta the house for a while," Monty thought out loud.
       Agnes tapped her index finger on her face. "If I know that old bushy-tail, he’s not going to want to meet anyone. But if we arrange it right...does this lady have a green dress?" Monty saw that she was as much a plotter as he was. "We’ll make sure she does. What have you got goin’ on in the beautiful and devious head of yours?"
       "Jeff’s a sucker for a lady in a green dress. I do all my contract negotiations in one. He’ll never see it coming!" Agnes said. Monty laughed, holding his stomach. "Green it’ll be! If we’re goin’ to have a good time we might as well do what we can to share the wealth."
       Agnes joined in the laughter. "And Jeff could use an interesting night out--I expect he still goes home at midnight and gets to the office at six. But will she go along with this? I mean, Jeff’s pretty handsome, but still it’s a blind date."
       "She’s a dyed in the wool housewife. She needs the chance to get outta the kitchen. I think she’s lonely enough to take a chance on a blind date," Monty said. Agnes rubbed her hands. "Good! We’ll set it up then."
       Suddenly, Agnes’ thoughts shifted and she walked to the edge of the large limb. Monty was getting used to her moods, and knew she was preoccupied. "What is it, luv?"
       Agnes put her arms on the railing and looked out into the moonlight night. "I suddenly just realized--we’re talking about marriage. We’re changing our lives. Will you stay here with the Rangers? I’ve got more than enough years in for retirement now, thanks to my early days."
       Monty didn’t have to think that one over. "I’d wanna stay with the Rangers and you can still be a writer. We might have to change our habits a little, but I don’t think it would be a hard adjustment. Would you wanna live here with us or would you like us to get a place of our own?"
       Agnes took Monty’s hand and led him to the window where they could look in. The Rangers scattered when she saw them coming. The pretty chipmunk laughed softly as she and Monty watched them do their "chores".
       "All my life I have missed two things--you and my family. Now I have you, and my little nez cerise and guilleret. I have missed so much of all your lives, but now I think I have found my place. We will stay and where adventure takes the Rangers, we will go," Agnes said.
       Monty looked into that face, and found he never got tired of it. "Agnes, you gotta be a dream. A woman like you just can’t be! But if I’m dreamin’ I don’t want to ever wake up."
       Agnes led him back to the railing. "All of life is a dream of some sort, Monzy. We can only hope that the other dreamers are as fortunate as you and I. Come, let’s tell the others--I’m sure they can’t wait to find out."
       Monty opened the door for Agnes and Dale pitched down from his perch where he had his ear flat to the door. Monty smiled and put Dale back on his feet. "Well mates, it’s been decided. Agnes and me are gonna live here after we’re hitched. And maybe one day, all yer little ones will have some playmates."
       "Hoooooray!!!! They’re gonna stay!" Dale shouted.
       Gadget looked up from the tool she was making. "Golly, that’s great!"
       Foxy came over and hugged them both. "Welcome home, to both of you!"
       Zipper buzzed in happiness.
       Chip walked up to the happy couple. "Agnes, we talked it over and we decided that if you were staying that we want you to be an official member of Rangers! Will you do it?" Agnes was flattered. "Well, perhaps. I still have much writing to do. But if duty calls, you’ll know where to find me."
       Chip understood. "It’s still too soon I guess, but all your experiences and abilities would be a real asset to us! Plus it would keep Monty from getting lonely on cases!" Agnes pinched his cheek and Chip blushed as usual. "You are sweet as ever, guilleret. But first, we have a wedding to plan!" Agnes said with zest.

Chapter Nine - To the Victors...

       With the frivolity over, everyone retired to bed. When dawn broke, Agnes decided to take a morning jog. The fresh morning air the park provided was a nice change of pace, and Agnes found that she was finally feeling at ease again. She had just finished and returned when she looked through the window and saw Dale. He was alone outside and looked thoughtful with his elbows resting on the wooden protective guardrail. She’d been meaning to talk with Dale—he’d been a little distant, and she knew that despite his initial joy there was something bothering him.
       **I suppose there won’t be a perfect time. Eh bien, I had better make it now than later.** Agnes strolled over and Dale’s eyes turned to meet her. He smiled slightly but his overall demeanor didn’t change. "I see you still have your love for the outdoors, Dale. I remember seeing you and little Chip when you both were young. Nothing could stop either of you--you’d climb as high as you could!"
       Dale shrugged. "Well, you know how the two of us are. Chip’s always been a great friend." Agnes sighed. It wasn’t going to be that easy. "I wish I did know. I have been so long away. I have missed so much."
       "Well, I’ve missed you too. Sorry, I didn’t mean that to sound critical," Dale said. Agnes looked down at the ground. "I know you did not, my nez cerise. But I still sense it marrying Monzy? I know it must be strange for you to think of your aunt suddenly coming back and immediately wanting to marry someone you work with daily."
       Dale chuckled. "We Oakmonts never did anything the normal way." Agnes smirked and looked up at that. "That is certainly true. But even if you are not my closest living relative, I think it only right to put the question to you--do you give us your blessing, Dale Oakmont?"
       Dale hugged Agnes. "Aunt Agnes, nothing on earth would make me happier than to see you and Monty being happy!" Agnes knew she could count on him. "I am grateful, Dale. I want you to be happy as much as I am!"
       Dale jumped up and down. "That’s good, ‘cause I’m pretty happy! Aunt Agnes, you and Monty have been apart for most of my life. You two deserve to be together. You fought the villain and now you get the happily ever after!" Dale said.
       Agnes walked to the railing where Dale had stationed himself only a short while ago. "Well, life is rarely that simple. I know there will be adjustments for Monzy and I--for all of us. But if I can be as happy as I am now, then any price will be worth it."
       Dale had a funny thought. "One big adjustment, Monty sleeps in a hammock."
       Agnes giggled. She’d always appreciated his humor. "I’ve slept in hammocks, in railway cars, on camels, and in igloos. I expect we’ll manage to find a happy medium."
       Dale stood on his hands. "And I sleep hanging upside down from the ceiling with Foxglove. We’re all a little weird!" Agnes bent down kissed Dale on the nose, causing him to fall over. "Well, if we were all the same, life would be boring, n’est ce pas? Now come, we must take our eccentricities inside. Monzy is making a ‘special’ supper for us all and will likely need help."
       Dale was back on his feet at once. "Well, it will be interesting to see how Monty cooks now that he’s off the cheese kick." Agnes and Dale opened the door and found the room is filled with the scent of garlic and cloves. Agnes breathed in the wonderful aroma. "Perhaps I should not be so hasty to settle down. With food that smells that good, I may lose my figure!"
       Dale inhaled deeply and jumped into his seat. "I think we’re all going to have to look after our figures!" Monty poked his head from the kitchen. "I’ll be more than glad to look after yours, luv...."
       Agnes laughed and threw a small pillow at him. "Oh, you! Get back in there where you belong!" Monty smiled childishly and began humming as he prepared the evening’s meal. It took all day, but when Monty came out, everyone agreed the effort was worth it. Monty brought out a sumptuous meal--all Agnes’ favorites of course. He’d managed to call Jeff and get some pointers in the right direction. The main dish was walnuts served creole style with the garlic and cayenne pepper in the shell. They also had a huge salad and fresh breadsticks, and for dessert a piping hot French chocolate mousse.
       Agnes was overcome. "Oh, Monzy! You should not have gone to such effort! But I am glad you did."
       Monty was pleased at the compliment, and that he’d taken his mother’s advice and learned to cook. It sure had paid off for him. "The last meal we shared together were nothing but cheese, biscuits and coffee. You deserved something better this time."
       Agnes digged in. "And it is certainly that! I feel like I am sitting in the bistro in Paris! You have the culinary flair, cherie." Agnes kissed him in gratitude.
       Dale was enjoying the exchange almost as much as the walnuts. "Wow, you two are just so great together. Made for each other."
       The kids were as eager to start eating as the adults, and Mercy had eyes for only one thing. Gadget grabbed her hand before she could reach the tempting dessert. "No, Mercy, you have to eat that last," she said firmly. Agnes was amused by the child, and even more when she noticed who was using the diversion. "And you are just made for that mousse au chocolat, eh Dale? I see you eyeing it..." Dale drew his spoon back with a sheepish look on his face. The kids all laughed at him as he blushed a bit.
       Monty decided to have a little fun. "Better watch it mate--don’t want me future nephew to get into trouble..."
       Barbara was sitting between Dale and Foxy. She wasn’t much of a talker, but when she got an idea in her head, she had to say it. "Hey, Daddy! Daddy...Daddy..." Dale gave her his full attention. "What is it, Barb?" Barbara giggled and pointed at Monty. "Uncle...Uncle Monty’s your uncle too!"
       The group laughed kindly, as all grown-ups do at the things kids say. Foxglove laughed at first, then she stopped and looked seriously at the other Rangers.
       "Foxglove, what’s the matter?" Gadget asked. Foxy’s face was the epitome of confusion. "That..that means Monty’s going to be my in-law. Does that make Dale my....cousin? Monty is going to marry Dale’s aunt. And Chip is Dale’s unofficial brother who is married to Gadget. That means...that means that we’re practically all part of the same family! We’re all related now!"
       "Wow, you’re right Foxy! It’s incredible!" Chip said.
       "Well, we’re almost all family..." Monty had a sympathetic look on his face as he nodded toward Zipper, who was looking downtrodden. Foxglove noticed Monty’s sympathetic look toward Zipper. "I’m sorry, Zipper. I didn’t mean it to sound like that..." Foxglove said with sympathy.
       "You’re practically one of the family, Zip," Gadget said. "It’s just that flies don’t tend to intermarry with other species. Not that they couldn’t if they wanted to. I mean, flies are people too, after a fashion....."
       Monty kept his patience in check. "What Gadget’s tryin’ to say is, you’re part of our team family if not by blood mate." Zipper nodded but it was evident he didn’t feel any better.
       Dale jumped up. "Yeah! And I have a solution to the dilemma." Dale looked around and pointed to a butter knife on the table. "Squire, my sword!" Chip looked at him for a moment, but handed the knife over. Dale stood before Zipper. "As King Dale of Oakmont, I have decided to bestow on you a title. Kneel." Zipper looked strangely at Dale, but complied.
       "Sir Zipper, you have always shown yourself to be a fly of uncommon valor and bravery and you would be a worth addition to any family. I hereby bestow on you the new name Zipper Oakmont. So that now all the Rangers may be of one family, now and forever. Do you accept this title?" Dale asked, that broad smile filling his face.
       It’s a rare thing when a fly cries, but Zipper cried at this. He was so choked up, all he could do was nod. The others all smiled in their agreement. Dale shook Zipper’s hand.
       "Well, I guess I have another brother," Dale said with satisfaction. Chip came over and patted Zipper on the head. "I guess we do."
       "Hear, hear! Welcome to family, pally!" Monty said.
       Gadget was crying again. "Golly, this is such a great moment!"
       Monty came over to his little pally. "And since we’re all being mushy and whatnot…Zipper, I want you to be best, bug at me wedding." Zipper flew up and hugged Monty and squeaked out that he was honored to be chosen.
       "Glad ta hear it, mate. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way," Monty said.
       Agnes was reveling in the love she saw. "Monzy, this is the family that I had missed for so long. I am pleased to be here with all of you--it’s like a dream come true." Agnes started to cry, and then Foxy cried and soon there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
       At that moment, the door burst open. Everyone spun around in surprise.
       "Ma! Dad!" Monty shouted. Cheddarhead Charlie and Camembert Kate walked right in "G’day, son! That Jeff bloke’s cable caught up with us in Cairo! Katie and I here were about to enter the camel tossing tourney!" Cheddarhead said.
       Kate rushed up and hugged Monty. "Oh, my boy! My Cheeser!" Monty looked embarrassed. "Crikey! Mum, dad! Didn’t expect to see you here so soon!" Monty said.
       Cheddarhead whopped his son on the back. "When we heard our boy was gonna be hitched, we hopped the first plane back--good thing fer us it was the Concorde! Now who’s the lucky mouse?"
       Cheddarhead gave a wink to Gadget, who suddenly got chills. "Gadget, congratulations, Monty ‘ll make you a fine husband! He’s a right gentleman all the way, just like me. And yer little ones will be fine ones too."
       Gadget blushed and looks helplessly at the others. "Well...."
       "Now, don’t you fret lass! You’re worthy of ‘im!" Cheddarhead said. "Uh, I’m already married...." Gadget answered. Cheddarhead drew back. "Married? Who’s the bloke you’re leavin’ to marry my boy? You’re not the love ‘em and leave ‘em type, are ya?" he asked, his eyes narrowing.
       Chip cleared his throat. "Gadget’s married to me, Charlie." Cheddarhead looked over at Chip. "And she’s leavin’ you? Son, I told ya the last time you should be more take-charge. Now yer losin’ yer wife!" Cheddarhead leaned into Monty and whispered, "Maybe you should get with another outfit son. This lad don’t seem very with-it."
       Monty had all he could take. "Dad, please! I’m not marryin’ Gadget! I’m marryin’ Agnes here, she’s Dale’s aunt and a mighty fine woman she is!" Kate and Cheddarhead looked at Agnes who was already blushing and then back at Monty. Kate was astonished. "Yer marrying......a chipmunk? Jeff didn’t say anything about this! Cheeser, you’ve got explainin’ to do...."
       Monty got a bit haughty. "What’s there to explain? She’s the love of my life and I’m the love of her life! That’s about the size of it."
       Gadget could see that there was a lot of explanation needed, and they were in the way. "Guys, we’d better go on to bed. It’s been a long day. We’ll see you in the morning, Monty!"
       Monty put his arm over Agnes’ shoulder. He glanced that his teammates. Other than Gadget it appeared the others wanted to stay. He glared at them. "Goodnight, everybody!"
       "Awwww....well, you’ll like my aunt once you get to know her, she’s tops!" Dale said. Chip grabbed Dale’s collar and started dragging him off. He saw the desperation in Monty’s eyes and couldn’t help feeling sympathy for him.
       "Good nite, Monty. Good luck!" Chip said.
       After the others had left, Monty turned his attention back to his parents, as they did to him. "Monty, there’s got to be billions o’ lady mice in the world," Cheddarhead started. "You can’t find just one that you liked enough to get hitched too? Why didn’t you marry that cute bit you work with, Gadget?" Monty was put-out now. "Crikey, Dad! I couldn’t ever have romantic type feelin’s fer Gadget--I held her in me hands the day she was born and now that her dad’s gone, I love her like me own daughter."
       Cheddarhead grimaced. "I admit we’re open-minded lad, but a chipmunk--never thought that!" Agnes had remained silent through this, but now she came over. "Say were you in Nairobi that time they had the giant anteater races?"
       Chedderhead pulled on his lapels. "I should say I was! Never miss it! I’d have won last year, but some spunky lass edged me out!"
       Agnes smiled calmly. "That was me." Cheddarhead did a double-take. Cheddarhead always respected someone who can back up their talk with actions. "Say, I remember you now! Well, anyone that can say they’d got the best o’ Chedderhead Charlie’s good enough fer me!"
       Kate’s expression hadn’t changed the whole time. "Cheeser, outside." Monty gave Agnes a "I’m in for it now" look and went with her. Agnes watched them go and then turned her attention to Cheddarhead. "So, how are you at wrestling?"
       "Mum, I’m in love and I’m marryin’ Agnes. So start likin’ it and we’ll all get along fine!" Monty said. Kate stared him down. "Now Cheeser, she seems like a nice girl. But are you marryin’ the girl, or your dream from a long time ago?"
       Monty knew she’d say that. "Mum, stop calling me Cheeser and she always was a dream, then and now, near and faraway. She’s everything that I could ever desire! And what’s really unbelievable is that I’m actually the man o’ her dreams. If this be a dream then I don’t ever want to wake up."
       Kate put her hand on his shoulder. "That’s what I’m afraid of, Chee...Monty. You’re gonna marry her and then both of you will find out what reality is. Love is easy to talk, it’s not so easy to live. You’ll understand that someday."
       Monty hugged his mother. "Mum, it’s reality that made us both see just how much we love and need each other. Reality showed us how lonesome we both were all these years without each other." Kate hugged him back. "I guess it has been hard on you all this time. As long as you take a step back and look before you dive in, I’m for it. But you know that means you’re going to have to shape up a bit, boy. No more sloppy room, no more runnin’ off on a whim. You’re a family man now."
       Monty knew that was coming too. "Yeah, that’s right. But only ev’ry other week." Monty winked at her. "That line on cleaning up didn’t work on your father either," Kate said, shaking her head.
       Monty gave his mother a stern look. "Mum, promise me yer not goin’ to give yer future grandkids any nicknames!" Kate reached for the door. "I won’t insist, but your father will. ‘Son, you’ve got to carry on the Erskine traditions’ he’ll say,"
       Monty looked a bit confused. "Uh, what traditions might they be?" Kate put her hands on her hips. "Now what ‘ave you just asked me about? The nicknames! Adopted or not, he’ll want ‘em named just like you were named in the family tradition," Kate said. Monty shuddered at the thought of inflicting cruel nicknames on another generation of his family. "How about we just give ‘em cheese names and skip the nicknames? How about Brie fer a girl and Colby fer a boy?" Monty suggested.
       Kate sighed. "Well, if you can work it by your father...but you know how he is." Kate and Monty go inside and stop short. Cheddarhead and Agnes were fighting!
       Agnes laughed out loud. "Is that the best you’ve got?" Cheddarhead was having the time of his life. "Hah! I haven’t even brought out me first-class moves yet!"
       Monty was taken aback. "Dad, Aggie..." Cheddarhead flashed a look to him. "This is personal, boyo. Bonsai!" Cheddarhead leaped at Agnes and she parried his attack. They went on for a minute or so until they both were tired from the effort. As Cheddarhead got his breath, he started to laugh. "What a gal! Well, lad, she’ll keep ya on yer toes." He patted Agnes on the back.
       "Then I take it we have yer blessin’ in this marriage?" Monty asked hopefully. Cheddarhead whopped his boy on the back again. "You’d better grab this one before someone else does, boy! She’s a bloomin’ spitfire!"
       Kate came over and took Agnes’ hand. "What my husband is saying is we’re all for you, dearie." Agnes hugged her kindly. "Thank you, Kate, Charlie. I’ll look after Monzy and keep him out of trouble."
       Kate laughed at the idea. "Ho, ho! I told ol’ Chedderwheel’s parents the same thing when I married him! But you might just be up to the task."
       Monty perked up. "I’d fergotten about them! How’s grandma and grandpa doin’ these days? Last I heard they were in the Amazon wrestlin’ alligators." Cheddarhead held his belly and laughed. "Let’s jus’ say the purse and shoes business is booming!"
       The next morning, the phone rang in Ranger Headquarters. Monty reached it first.
       It was Jeff calling. "Hello, it this Monterey Jack?"
       "The one and only, mate!" Monty said.
       "Could you and the Rangers come tonight to the R.A.S.? Agnes and Percival will be there as well," Jeff said.
       "Well sure, but what’s it all about?" Monty asked.
       Jeff paused a moment. "Let’s just say it’s unfinished business. See you at seven! It’s a formal, by the way."
       Monty hung up the phone, not sure what to make of that. The Aussie called everyone together, and at six-thirty that evening the Rangers, Agnes, and Monty’s parents set out in their best attire to the international headquarters for the Rescue Aid Society. Percival was waiting for them at the main door. "I say, do any of you blokes have the foggiest what this palaver is over? They wouldn’t breathe a word of it to me!"
       Monty shrugged his shoulder. "Percival, mate, I don’t have a clue."
       Dale was looking everywhere at once. There were big cars and people all dressed up. "It looks like it’s going to be a big party!" Percival pursed his lips. "I have it’s not some kind of ruddy testimonial dinner. I don’t like publicity, and never have."
       Chip looked at the crowd filing in. "Dale, people don’t dress this formal to go to a party, they dress this way to go to a gala!" Agnes walked up the steps. "Oh, Percy! I’m sure it’s got to do with the magazine’s debut. Now let’s get inside."
       Percival led the way in. The main chamber was filled with tuxedos and dresses. On a raised platform, two large tables were covered with the R.A.S. and R.A.S.C.A.L.S. insignias, with several dignitaries present. Jeff spotted the honored group as they came in. "Ah, there you are! Come on, I’ve got seats for you down front. Monty, Agnes, Percival, you’ve got places at the table to the left of the podium, where the R.A.S.C.A.L.S. symbol is"
       "I knew it. Testimonial," Percival said.
       Monty was rapt up in the spectacle. "Too-Ra-Loo. Somethin’ interesting is gonna happen here. And we got front row seats!" Agnes turned a suspicious eye on Jeff. "Jeffrey, what is all this?"
       "As I told Monty this morning, unfinished business. You’ll find out in a few minutes," Jeff said slyly.
       Dale was already getting bored having to be in a suit at in a formal setting. The group—minus the three Jeff took to the main table—found seats at a large circular dining table down front. As they all sit down, a mouse known to R.A.S. members and countless others throughout the world stood up from the R.A.S. side and a spotlight followed her to the podium. Bianca Râboga signaled the applauding crowd to settle down.
       "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have been gathered here today to give long overdue credit to three brave heroes. Heroes who risked life and limb to save us all. The mission that they took part in had been so secret that it was known only to a handful, even with the intelligence community. But now the truth can be told and at last we can honor those who so richly deserve it. Monterey Jack Erskine, Agnes Oakmont and Percival Montgomery. Their accomplishments are even more remarkable in light of the newly discovered fact that one of those involved in the mission was a spy for the organization known as R.O.D.E.N.T.S. So, we are all here today that we may honor each of you for your heroism and award you the R.A.S.’ highest honor awarded to our personnel, the Gold star of valor," Bianca said.
       Cheddarhead stood up and clapped. "My boy! That’s my boy!"
       Percival sighed. "Well, at least it’s not a French medal ceremony where they kiss you on both cheeks..."
       Monty looked around, embarrassed, and sank down into his chair. At Bianca’s summons, the trio stood and came to the podium. Another old mouse brought the medals. The National Mouse-O-Graphic photogs were everywhere, snapping pictures.
       Jeff was stationed next to the podium and rubbed his hands with glee. "What a cover this is going to make!" Agnes gave Jeff a mock angry glance while she waited her turn. "So, Jeff, this was your sneaky idea...thank you."
       Jeff beamed at her. "Of course it was! What good are connections if you don’t use them? Plus it makes a wonderful end to all this. Now you can finally settle down and write that book you’ve been promising me you’d put out for the last ten years." Agnes looked uncomfortable. "Well, I’ll try. I just hope it doesn’t turn out dull." Jeff looked at her in mock astonishment. "You? Dull? Perish the thought! Now give us a big smile for the cover."
       Bianca took center stage again as she prepared to give out the medals. "For bravery above and beyond the call of duty, for gallantry in the face of danger, and for averting a disaster that would have meant the end of our existence as we know it, I hereby award each of you these medals. They are not sufficient to express our thanks, but we know that for heroes like yourselves, the duty is what matters most."
       Flashbulbs popped everywhere in the room as Percival stepped forward first. Bianca kissed him on the cheek and slipped the ribbon bearing the medal around his neck. "Thank you. Thank you all. This is a great honor, but I wish to give equal recognition to Ms. Oakmont and Mr. Erskine. They both paid a heavy price to keep the world safe. Let all three of us then be known as ‘the rodents that saved the world’!"
       Applause erupted in the room, and Cheddarhead stood on his chair and whistled. Monty blushed a bit, but retained his composure. Agnes came forward next.
       "Zowie! Go get ‘em, Aunt Agnes!" Dale shouted.
       Agnes’ hand brushed against Monty’s as she passed him going up to the microphone, she gave him a coy smile. "Greetings to you all, my friends. It is a great honor to receive this medal. But we are no more worthy of it than of anyone who is willing to fight and die for what they love. Let us not forget all those who fought and died to end the reign of terror that R.O.D.E.N.T.S. represented—their sacrifices now lost to history. It is the responsibility of all of us to keep the memory of all those brave souls alive." Agnes indicated that the audience should stand and everyone bowed their head in a moment of silence.
       "And now, something to lighten the mood again," Agnes started. There were murmurs of surprise in the audience. Agnes grabbed Monty’s hand as he was trying to find a way off-stage. "I want you all to know the heroic heart of Monzy. He would go to the ends of the earth for anyone in this room without asking. So it is that I will go to the ends of the earth with him. Monsieur Monterey has asked me to marry him, and I have accepted!"
       Flashbulbs went wild as Agnes kissed Monty, and he turned three shades of embarrassed. Jeff grinned. "Pulitzer, here we come....." Cheddarhead gave them both the thumbs-up. "Always knew that girl was the right one fer my son!"
       "Whoo-hoo! What a gal!" Dale said.
       "She’s a Ranger, through and through!" Chip said.
       Dale elbowed Chip kindly. "Of course, she’s an Oakmont! For a little while longer, anyway. It runs in the family!"
       As the tumult died down, Bianca called Monty up to the podium. Monty felt more than a bit embarrassed. "Uh, Miss Bianca? I’m right honored, but I was never an official member o’ R.A.S.C.A.L.S. I jus’ happened to be in the right place at the right time." Bianca gave him a comforting smile. "Monterey, we have someone here who has asked the honor of decorating you, and will explain the reason for your decoration. Sir, will you come forward?"
       A middle-aged mouse limped his way up to the podium. Monty didn’t know him right off, but something was familiar. The audience hushed as the mouse entered the spotlight. The newcomer saw Monty’s confusion, and turned to address the audience.
       "Before introducing myself, I would like to tell about Monterey Jack and an act of heroism he performed. However, this is not the one for which he is being honored tonight. Still, it means just as much—to me at least. A short time before he joined up with his two other companions at Brie, Monty came upon a fight between a R.A.S.C.A.L. agent and an agent from R.O.D.E.N.T.S. He could have passed by, but instead he risked his life to save the R.A.S.C.A.L. agent. He took the vial which contained the deadly ebola virus and saw it safely to friendly hands. And he saved my life," the mouse said.
       Monty did a huge double take. "Nighter? F. X. Nighter?! You’re alive!" Monty shouted.
       "Yes, thanks to you my friend. I returned to active service with the R.A.S.C.A.L.S. Now as you know, this award has only been given to one person outside our organization. And no one but the President of the combined groups can approve a non-member for our highest decoration. So it is with my whole heart that I, Arthur Trebold, approve and affix our highest honor to Monterey Jack Erskine," he said.
       The crowd stood as one, and the applause was thunderous. Monty was astonished by it all. The bloke he’d saved became the President of the R.A.S. and the R.A.S.C.A.L.S.! As Arthur motioned him forward, Monty had to force his limbs to obey. The cameras flashed everywhere as Trebold hung the ribbon around his neck, and then hugged Monty.
       "Thank you, Monty. You’re tops in my book," Arthur said, shedding some tears. Monty patted his back. "You’re welcome, mate. I’d do it again, in a heartbeat." Kate and Charlie had never been so proud of their son, nor had the Rangers. Agnes’ look was splendid, and Percy shook his hand heartily. Then all the delegates came forward to shake his hand, and Agnes got to him and kissed him again.
       As the warm expressions of thanks and the applause finally died down, Monty walked up to the microphone and tapped on it. "Is this thing on? Okay, right...Uh, I’m really touched by gettin’ this award. It’s good to know that good things come to those who wait. Some bad things came out o’ that mission, but some real good things too." I met the most wonderful woman in the world there, her eyes are like emeralds, her hair’s red as the sunset. Her character is as solid as a rock and a heart o’ gold...Oh, wait, the medal...I’m much obliged."
       Monty blushed a bit, but the warm laughter and applause showed the audience’s approval. The trio was called together at the podium, and their group picture ran in all the major animal presses the next day. Finally, the centers of attention were allowed to join the others. Cheddarhead shook his son’s hand heartily. "Son, you did the Erskine name proud! I’ll spread this story from one side of the globe to the other!"
       Jeff had come down from the podium as well. "You’ll have to race me for that honor, Mr. Erskine. The I-M-G will have a full issue on this one!"
       At this point, Jennifer and Roger Maplewood came over and joined the congratulations. They’d been at a nearby table, and had clapped as hard as anyone when Agnes came up. The large group sat down and soon everyone was swapping stories. Then two more chipmunks showed up.
       "Mom! Dad!" Dale shouted.
       Anne and Duncan Oakmont hugged their son hard. "We heard what was going on and decided to cut our vacation short a few days! Wow, it’s great to see everyone!"
       Everyone was introduced to everyone else and soon the story-swapping began. Agnes turned out to be as good a storyteller as Monty was. "...And were they competitive, especially over a handsome boy! It was funny to watch Jennifer and Anne try to outdo each other to win the young man’s attention. Like the time they both took up clog dancing to impress Gunar, the champion clog dancer!" Agnes said, laughing.
       "And Roger and Duncan weren’t much better...two young men acting like children to impress a girl. As it turned out, the four ended up all in love with each other. Roger was dating Anne and Duncan was dating Jennifer. But everyone was secretly in love with everyone else and getting jealous. They hatched all kinds of wild schemes to win each other. It was so funny to watch them, but in the end, Roger and Jennifer got each other and Duncan and Anne married each other."
       The Maplewoods and Oakmonts both sank low in their seats as Agnes continued her story telling. Dale had a mile-long grin on his face. "Clog dancing, mom?" Chip’s equaled it. "Wild schemes, dad?"
       Roger Maplewood was looking defensive. "Well now Agnes is exaggerating things! We didn’t get into that much trouble!"
       "Only every other day, Roger..." Jennifer added. Her husband surrendered. "Well, okay, maybe Duncan and I did get into trouble...often. But you and Anne were also up there too. Remember the community center talent show?"
       From the look on Jennifer’s face, she remembered. She sank a little lower in her seat.
       "Mom, what happened?" Chip said with bated breath.
       Jennifer Maplewood’s breath wasn’t so bated. "Well, She was dating Roger at the time and I was dating Duncan. We both wanted to date the other’s boy friend. So as it turns out we both sabotaged each other’s act…Anne was giving a fencing demonstration and I was her opponent. Mix a fencing foil and a small concealed container of ketchup, well let’s just say it was a show stopper." She chuckled, and Chip and Dale was laughing hard already "But she got back at me during my act. Oh, did she ever! My number was the classic dance from the theme of ‘Singing in the Rain’. Well, my friend Anne decided my performance wasn’t real enough, so...."
       Dale had a wide grin on his face. "Mom! I never would have guessed you were a master prankster, like me!"
       Anne Oakmont crossed her arms. "Oh, she’s exaggerating it all!"
       "Aunt Anne, mom...I’m having a hard time believing all this," Chip said.
       Jennifer was just managing to contain herself. "Would you believe she turned the sprinkler system on me? And when it started to ‘rain’, would you believe my umbrella just happened to be slit all along the spines?"
       Anne threw up her arms in an accentuated move. "The audience loved it! They said they’d never seen a more realistic rendition!" Jennifer pointed at her. "The orchestra didn’t love it. Those sprinklers flooded the whole pit! And guess who never showed her face to claim responsibility?"
       Anne rolled her eyes. "Genius is never appreciated in its own age!"
       Dale burst out laughing, while Chip sat there in stunned silence at the mental image of the scene. Anne poked her unofficial nephew. "Chip, ask your grandparents for the pictures, I’m sure they still have them."
       "Oh, I’m sure mom and dad kept them," Jennifer said. "They’d never throw those away! Don’t you remember how they grounded me for a week after that?"
       Anne started on dessert. "Yes, I was grounded too. For two weeks."
       Jennifer laughed as she replayed the time in her memory. "And then you had to do my chores too! I can still remember you grumbling, mopping that kitchen floor!"
        "Yeah! But only because you said you’d go the dance committee and tell them! I had the awfulest time explaining that to your folks!" Anne retorted.
       Jennifer took on a look of smug satisfaction. "But you never pulled a stunt like that again, did you dearie?"
       Anne blushed. "Of course not, except for...I mean, no." Chip laughed and beat the table with his hand. Gadget was smiling at the thought of it. "Golly, I didn’t realize it ran in the family."
       Anne entered the fray. "Oh Jennifer, that was nothing! What about the time you tried to set me up with that exchange student? You said, he was an ‘aristocrat’. Little did I know, but he was from the Middle East and ‘aristocrat’ was the only English word Abdullah could say!"
       Agnes was laughing so hard she couldn’t stand it. "Oh, you two were impossible!" Jennifer pointed a finger at her. "Well, you were a little trouble maker too, young lady! Remember the time you tried to mail yourself to the White House to get an interview with President Ford?"
       Agnes held up her head proudly. "And I would have made it, if not for the Secret Service opening all mail! They were certainly surprised to see me. I met the Ambassador to Korea over that--nicest mouse you ever could imagine. He laughed the whole time I was telling him my plans! But what about you and the grapefruit episode?"
       Duncan broke in, pointing at Agnes. "Or the time that you sneaked into the Metropolitan Museum of Art when the Tutankhamen treasure was there and you set off all the alarms?"
       "Or when you convinced everyone that the municipal pool was full of acid? Agnes said, pointing back at Duncan.
       Duncan shifted nervously in his seat, showing where Dale got his uncomfortable look from. "No one has ever produced one shred of evidence that I was involved in that unfortunate, but cunningly brilliant scheme that only a mastermind of mayhem could have conceived of and executed! It’s amazing what the power of suggestion can accomplish, especially when combined with a few Alka-Seltzer tablets…"
       Agnes stared him down. "Uh, huh. And when I tell my side of the pie-throwing contest in the book I’m going to write, I’ll be sure to include a sentence or two on your suggestive abilities."
       Dale was eating up every second of this, not to mention his dessert. "So, it seems that Chip and I are chips off the old block. Keeping the family tradition of chaos and mayhem intact. YES!" Chip leaned his head on his hand, positively giddy. "Well, this is certainly a side of mom and dad I never would have imagined."
       Cheddarhead slapped Duncan on the back, knocking him over. "Bonzer times, mate! Reminds me ‘o me days in the outback when we went dingo wrestlin’. Right love-muffins?" Kate gave him a hard glare. "I seem to remember you did most of that. But I do remember when we got caught in that hurricane trying to beat your old rival Billie Blue Bobbins around the Cape of No Hope. Barely managed to do it too!" Cheddarhead took exception to that. "Aw, had ‘im beat by a mile!"
       "Golly, it seems all the Ranger parents are adventurous! Guess we know where ours comes from," Gadget said.
       Agnes decided it was time to pick on her favorite mouse. "Monzy, were you adventurous as a boy?" Monty drew himself up. "Of course I was! I was a tiger foamin’ at the mouth, ready to tear into any adventure that came my way."
       "Now Cheeser, that’s not exactly true!" Kate countered. "What about all the coaxin’ we had ta do to get you to go outside?" Cheddarhead laughed. "The lad loved it indoors, and didn’t wanna go out for anything. I can still hear him, ‘but ma, it’s scary out there!’"
       Kate chuckled. "I finally had to arm ‘im up and set ‘im outside. But no stoppin’ him after that. Well, until he found that wombat." Monty rubbed his hand on his posterior, remembering. "One of the first lessons I learned in life. Never turn yer back on a angry wombat."
       Cheddarhead tried to hold back a laugh and failed miserably. "Still one of the funniest things I ever saw! The lad ‘ad jest seen some of the local bucks out on their horses herding up a mess of sheep. He had to try to be like ‘em, and what should he pick for his mount but a wombat? I’d jest given him a pair o’ spurs and boots for ‘is birthday, and he let into the flanks o’ that wombat with ‘em!" Cheddarhead started crying he was laughing so hard.
       "T’warn’t so funny on my end! It took us all night to find him!" Kate said. "That wombat went plumb loco and ran out of sight with ‘im! We searched and searched, and finally found him on the low branch of a tree quivering for his life."
       "Remember Buttercup?" Cheddarhead asked.
       Monty smiled at the name. "Buttercup, she was somethin’ else."
       Agnes pushed him playfully. "Monzy! So, your heart belonged to another once?" Monty blushed. "Well, it was just a crush, nothin’ more. She was a Tasmanian Devil, a fine girl, until she got hungry and tried to eat me. Nearly took me right arm off ‘fore I could get away."
       Dale laughed, picturing it. "Sounded like love at first bite!" Chip struggled with all his might to refrain from bonking Dale. He had to grab his wrist with his free hand and hold it back. Agnes chuckled and kissed Monty lightly. "I have enjoyed getting to talk over old times. It means so much to share the thoughts of the past with those who remember."
       Dale agreed. "Yeah, I’d hate to think that all these great stories would be forgotten. Now they can be passed on to a new generation!"
       "Like they need to be..." Roger mumbled.
       "Aw, c’mon dad!" Chip kidded. "What’s the good of stories if they’re not told?"
       Duncan pointed to Jeff. "Ask your editor friend there. I’m sure he’s got a few reasons." Jeff saw an opening. "Actually, I was thinking of doing a follow-up story at the wedding."
       Agnes folded her arms in determined defiance. "Non, Jeffrey. The wedding is private, I insist on that. But you are invited of course."
       "We’ll make the reception a bonzer blowout. But just close friends and family for the big event," Monty added. Jeff held up his hands. "Okay, okay. But I foot the bill for the reception. My treat."
       Monty thanked him. "Well, that’s mighty generous of ya. And just wait, we got a surprise already waitin’ for ya at the reception." Jeff looked at them curiously. "A surprise? Does it involve anything I can turn into another best-selling story?" Agnes kissed Jeff on the cheek. "No, but it might help you to see that there is more to life than news."
       Jeff’s eyes narrowed a bit. "Now just what is going on in that sneaky little mind?"
       Agnes gave him a kind look. "You’ll just have to wait for the reception, won’t you?"
       The clock in the large room tolled ten. "Crikey! Three hours already? Guess we’ve said all the important things there are to say," Monty said. Agnes hugged him. "Except the most important, mon petit chou. But we shall say them soon enough," Agnes said and winked at Monty—he caught the meaning.
       One week later, the morning of the wedding was the busiest the Rangers could remember. A million details had to be taken of, and well-wishers from across the planet were constantly calling for either Monty or Agnes. Alex, Mercy and Barbara had already been picked up by their grandfathers. Chip came into the main room in headquarters, where the Maplewoods were serving as interference for anyone coming in person. Jennifer straightened the tie on Chip’s tuxedo as Roger finished taking down yet another message. "I had no idea you’d met so many people, son! Monty’s been getting messages from everywhere!" Roger said.
       Roger pointed to an ever-growing stack on a table where wedding gifts were being displayed. Dale walked in and caught the scene. "If one of them is ticking, it’s from Fat Cat."
       Foxglove came in with a pretty pink dress on. "Oh, I’m so excited! Dale, I wish we were getting married again. It was magical!"
       Jennifer took one look at Dale and had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. He was wearing his classic technicolor suit. "Dale, where’s your tux?"
       Dale put his arms around his ‘classic’ protectively. "Aw, do I haveta wear it?" One look from Jennifer made it clear he did. Dale grumbled off to his room.
       Chip’s heart raced as he saw Gadget enter the room in her pink bridesmaid gown. "Gadget, you look...stunning." Gadget blushed a bit.
       "You look good too, Chip," she said.
       Suddenly, two hands covered Chip’s eyes. "Guess who?"
       Chip turned around, and Tammy had on a light blue dress that contrasted nicely with her hair. "I made it myself! Whaddaya think?"
       "It looks great, Tammy! Your tailoring is impressive," Chip said. Tammy was all revved up. "Thanks, Chipper! Hey, where’s Bink? She was supposed to be right behind me!"
       "Is this the young lady you’re referring to?" Percival came in the door in his tux, with Bink riding on his shoulders. She was wearing a pastel pink dress for her role as flower girl, and was enjoying the ride. Donna Chesnutt was with him, in an emerald green dress that made her look like a duchess. "I saw them coming up as I was and decided to escort them in."
       Bink giggled, looking up at Percival. "He talks funny!"
       "Now Bink, that’s not polite," Donna corrected.
       Dale wiped a tear from his eye as he returned in his tux. "Our little Monty’s all grown up. It seems like just yesterday he was old enough to be our fathers and stood a full head taller than us and today, well, he’s still just like that. But he’s getting married as well."
       Gadget took Chip’s hand. "Golly, you’re right, Dale. It feels like we’re getting a stepmom." Chip put her arm around his. "It’s amazing how a little time changes things. Just a few months back, I was thinking that Monty would never marry. Now we’ve got a new member of the Rangers!"
       "Good thing I planned for additions. The tree’s starting to get filled up," Gadget said.
       "Hey, the more the merrier!" Dale piped up.
       Foxy joined him. "More kisses, perhaps?" Foxy snuggled Dale.
       Percival had enjoyed the exchanges as much as anyone. "I’m glad Monty has such friends as you. He certainly deserves them."
       Donna looked at the group and smiled, but there was a little sadness mixed with it. Weddings were a wonderful thing—you think that you and your mate have a long full life together, but that’s not always the way it worked out
       Tammy came over to her mother. "Are you okay, Mom?"
       Donna hugged Tammy. "I’m fine, sweetheart. Just took a little trip down memory lane to my wedding." Donna turned back to the Rangers. "Thank you for inviting Tammy and Bink as well. But I am confused as to why you invited me.."
       Gadget left Chip and took her hand. "Donna, you’re a great friend. You helped Foxglove and I prepare for when we brought our children home. You’re always there for us when we needed you! This is our way of saying thanks."
       "I’m grateful, and not just for lending me your dress to copy. You’ve also been such good friends to the girls. Well, are we ready to go?" Donna asked.
       "Yeah, let’s make like a tree and leave!" Dale said. "Make like a log and split. Make like a bread truck and haul buns."
       "Make like a monk and be quiet!" Chip chided.
       Dale giggled. "Good one!"
       "Now, boys, play nice," Jennifer said. "Let’s get everything ready. Get the kids and let’s get flying."
       The group assembled and made their way to the city chapel. Monty and Agnes were already there in separate rooms. The ladies went off to check on Agnes and the guys invaded Monty’s room. Monty was already nervous and the door flying open didn’t help things.
       "Hey, Monty! Only 30 minutes to go!" Dale said.
       Monty was shaking a little. "I know, Mate. I know. I’m just a mite nervous."
       Dale was confused by this. "Monty, you loved Aunt Agnes for almost fifteen years, so this should be the easy part!"
       "I’ve wrestled dingoes, ridden snakes, fought bloodthirsty assassins and I was never nervous. Crikey, I’m skakin’!" Monty said, looking at his unsteady hands.
       Percy patted him on the back. "Nothing strange about that, old bean. Happens to the best of us. I was a quivering mass before mine."
       "I was never a bit nervous!" Chip said.
       "Was that why I had to pry your fingers apart to give you the ring?" Dale asked pointedly.
       Zipper buzzed a question to Monty. "Crikey, good thinkin’ Zipper. The ring, who’s got the ring?" Monty asked.
       Dale rummaged in his pocket. "I’ve got it! Here, Zipper...." Dale fumbled the ring and it starts rolling on the floor.
       "Grab it!" Monty shouted. The door burst open and Cheddarhead Charlie entered. As he moved his foot forward he kicked the ring across the room.
       "Follow the bouncing ring!" Dale said with gusto.
       Across the hall, the ladies wondered what was causing all the commotion from the room the guys were in.
       "Those boys! Listen to them having fun! Men will never change," Agnes said.
       Gadget shrugged. "Well, I’m sure Dale is doing his best to keep Monty distracted. Monty’s got to be terribly nervous."
       "Sounds like Dale’s playing keep-away with the ring," Foxglove said, listening. "Why do they do things like that?"
       Donna shook her head. "Men never grow up, Foxy. They just do their best to pretend they know everything!"
       The girls all giggled at that. The ladies heard struggling and the sound of furniture breaking. "But then again, they’re probably saying the same thing about us," Jennifer said.
       Kate came in the door as they were about to check things out. "Oh don’t worry! That’s just Cheeser and ‘is dad playing around with the boys."
       "Who has the ring?" Agnes said.
       Tammy looked back from the door. "I do...uh, I think..." Tammy started searching her pockets. She brought the ring out and it slipped. "Whoops!"
       At last the battered and disheveled Monty held up the ring. "Well, now we’re ready to start this thing right." Everyone fell silent as they hear the commotion coming from the room where the ladies were.
       Dale put his ear to the door. "Girls, they’re crazy, but you gotta love ‘em!"
       "Yeah, or we’re crazy about them," Chip said. "I wonder what they’re up to?"
       Monty shook his head. "No tellin’ with womenfolk. I’ll just put this in me pocket for safe...whoops!" The ring rolled under the door and out into the hall.
       In the girls’ room, the mad scramble resulted in precise the same effect. "Get it!" Foxy said. The doors opened simultaneously and two group tackles ended up in two piles outside. Then the girls and guys realized they were both outside.
       "Quick, back inside! The bride and groom can’t see each other before the ceremony!" Donna shouted.
       Dale slapped his hand over Monty’s eyes, and the girls blocked Agnes as both groups scrambled to get back in their doors. The girls reached their room, breathed hard and then general laughing broke out. As the guys rushed for it, Monty walked into the doorframe with a loud thud because Dale forgot to take his hands off his eyes.
       "Is he all right?" Percy asked.
       "Is the doorframe all right?" Chip kidded.
       Monty rubbed his head. "Yeah, I’m all right, did ya get the ring?"
       Dale held up his thumb. "Sure did! It’s right here on my fin--ger...." Dale pulled at the ring, but it won’t budge. "Uh, Houston, we’ve got a problem."
       "Dale, what did you go and put in on your finger for?!" Chip demanded.
       "I wanted to put it somewhere it wouldn’t get lost!" Dale countered.
       Percy looked the problem over. "Well, he certainly achieved that. I think some cold cream would get that off. Do I hear a volunteer for the mission?"
       Zipper buzzed and saluted.
       "Good lad. Don’t let them take you alive, young fellow," Percival said.
       Zipper proceeded to the door and knocked as politely as one can under the circumstances. Gadget cracked the door open a bit. "What is it Zipper?"
       Zipper quickly summed up what had happened.
       "Sure, no problem! Agnes, hand me that container of cold cream," Gadget said. Gadget handed the container over to Zipper and he left gratefully. Gadget turned to the others and started laughing. Agnes was all attention, as were the others. "What is it, Gadget? What did he tell you?" The ladies were all laughing before Zipper got back inside the guys’ room.
       Chip placed a glob of cold cream on Dale’s finger and slowly worked the ring loose. "There, now I’ll hang on to it, Dale you can be so clumsy at...whoops!"
       "Oh, no--not again!" Monty said.
       The laughing in the ladies’ quarters had not died down totally when another knock came. "That had better not be Zipper again! We’re running out of cold cream!" Agnes said.
       Duncan Oakmont stood at the door. "They’re ready when you are in here. Foxglove, Gadget, you need to get ready to join Jennifer and Anne in the procession. Just give the signal."
       Agnes calmed herself down. "Okay, give us a moment to finish preparing." Agnes did a final check--everything was in order. "Well ladies, shall we?"
       Anne Oakmont tapped on the boys’ door. "Ready in there, Monty?"
       "Uh, just a minute!" Monty shouted. Monty cracked the door open. We’ll...slip out in a minute."
       "Got it!" Chip said inside.
       "Well, it wasn’t my fault this time!" Dale shouted.
       "But it was your toe!" Chip countered.
       Anne covered her face out of politeness. "Straighten up and let’s go, boys."
       Percy brushed Monty off and straightened his clothes. "Stout heart lad. Show no fear on the field of combat."
       Monty’s shakes started to return. "Easy for you to say, mate..."
       "Just remember, Monty—’I do’," Dale advised.
       In five minutes, the opening organ music started. Agnes’ father and Dale’s grandfather Dirk Oakmont stood at the rear of the church. He was showing his age, but his eyes still had the old Oakmont shine. "Hello precious," Dirk said, "are you ready?"
       "I have been ready for fifteen years, Papa," Agnes replied. Dirk looked at her sidewise. "Maybe I should have come sooner and given that lad a swift kick! Then he’d have proposed sooner!"
       Agnes laughed as Dirk took her arm and led her forward, left foot first. Bink led the way as flower girl, with Foxglove, Gadget, and Jennifer escorted by their husbands. Anne was maid of honor, escorted by Percival. Zipper got to come next to last, escorting Queenie. Then the organ playing increased its volume, and the audience turned to see the bride. The procession was short, yet it seemed to last longer than it did for the betrothed. Agnes and Monty stared into each other’s eyes as the distance between them shortened. Agnes was radiant, in a white lace wedding gown and Monty was shined up in special white tuxedo he’d had made for the occasion.
       As Agnes began her approach, three pairs of eyes peeked over the front pew on her right. Barbara was looking everywhere at once, while Mercy was watching Agnes with the others. Alex was bored and getting restless
       "Man, what’s taking so long? Why doesn’t she walk faster?" Alex mumbled.
       Mercy was caught up in the splendor of it all. "Oh, it’s so ‘mantic! Maybe momma will let me get married if I ask her!"
       Alex sneered at Mercy. "No one will wanna marry you, ‘cause you’re a girl!"
       Mercy crossed her arms and lifted her head. "I’m purty! Aunt Agnes said so!"
       Barbara was mystified by the goings-on, trying to look everywhere at once. "Why is everyone cryin’? They sad that Aunt Agnes is gettin’ married?" Alex ignored Barbara’s question and continued his argument. "She just said that ‘cause she’s a girl too!"
       "What music is that? Sounds old," Barbara said. "They must like it ‘cause they’re all real old too," Alex replied.
       Mercy was determined to get the upper hand in her little argument. "She did not! Aunt Agnes is a spy, an’ a ‘venturess,’s neat!" Alex tried to think up a clever retort but he couldn’t find one. "Well, maybe she’s sorta really neat..."
       Duncan leaned forward and whispered to the kids, "Keep it down’re not supposed to talk loud during the ceremony." The kids continued their discussion in whispers. As the music ended, the crowd turned and faced the Reverend Granville D. Smythe, a kindly-looking old badger.
       "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here...." the reverend began Cheddarhead blew on his handkerchief. "My boy..."
       "Our boy!" Kate countered.
       The Reverend continued on. "…If anyone knows any reason why these two should not be joined, let them speak now or forever hold their peace..." the reverend said. Symthe waited the rhetorical moment
       "Get on with it! We’re ready ta celebrate!" Cheddarhead shouted. Alex pointed at him. "No fair! Monty’s dad gets to talk real loud!"
       "That’s ‘cause he’s growed-up," Barbara said matter-of-fact. "They get to talk loud when they’re old so they can hear themselves..." Duncan shushed them, and Alex crossed his arms and sunk into his pew. "Hurumph! Grown ups get to do all the fun stuff."
       The reverend composed himself, and continued. "Do you, Monterey Jack Erskine, take Agnes to be your lawfully wedded wife?" Monty looked deep into her awaiting eyes. "I been waitin’ fifteen years to say it—I do."
       Reverend Smythe smiled in kind and turned to Agnes. "And do you, Agnes Jeanette Oakmont, take Monterey to be your lawfully wedded husband?" Agnes contentedly looked at Monty. "I do take Monzy to be my love and soul mate now and forever and a day," Agnes sighed.
       Foxy was crying her eyes out, and Gadget was shedding some as well. The reverend took Monty and Agnes’ hands. "Then, by the authority vested in me as reverend of lower Manhattan, I hereby pronounce you husband and wife! You may kiss the bride, Mister Erskine!" Smythe said with relish
       Monty stepped closer to Agnes and gently lifted her veil. She was still every bit as beautiful as she had been all those years before. He took her chin in his hand and he leaned over and they kissed.
       "Way to go, son!" Cheddarhead shouted. Monty and Agnes were still too involved with their kiss to notice the response of those attending
       "It’s so...beautiful!" Foxy cried, returning to her handkerchief. Dale was the soul of satisfaction. "You couldn’t have done better Aunt Agnes and...Uncle Monty."
       Gadget leaned on Chip’s arm. "Golly, I never thought I’d see Monty get married."
       "Two lonely, restless spirits parted by cruel fate, but reunited at last. Two broken hearts united as one complete. Proving that true love never dies," Chip said.
       Finally, they separated.
       "Hello, Mr. Erskine."
       "And Mrs. Erskine."
       Agnes had a wild look in her eyes. "Oh, Monzy! Only one thing could make this any better!"
       "You mean?"
       Agnes pointed to her nephew. "Dale, go to it!" Dale winked and ran behind the curtain behind the altar. In a moment he returned with the Victrola. The music of the tango soon filled the place
       "May I have this dance?" Agnes asked. Monty bowed low. "Now where we before we were bothered? Oh, yeah." Monty took Agnes in his arms and they began to dance.
       Dale suddenly got an idea and ran over to the still-crying Foxglove. "C’mon Foxy, let’s go!" Before Foxglove can argue, they are dancing the tango as well.
       Cheddarhead stood up. "We gonna let ‘em show us up, Kate?" Kate took his arm. "Let’s show ‘em where Monty gets his dancing talent, cheddar-wheel..." Kate said, taking his arm.
       Chip stood arm and presented his arm to Gadget. "Well, when in Rome..." Gadget took the corner of her dress. "We’re not in Rome, Chip. And I’ve never danced the tango," Gadget said. Chip smiled and shrugged. "It’s not stopping me!" Soon the room was alive with couples dancing the tango.
       Monty only had eyes for Agnes. "Some time, that orchestra’s got to learn a new song..." Agnes tilted her head towards the other couples. "Oh, I don’t know. Maybe we’re starting a trend." For two full plays of the record the happy couples danced along. Monty and Agnes kissed again at the end of the dance. "Agnes, I’ve dreamed of this day for so long. I still can’t believe it’s real," Monty said. Agnes took his arm as they left the main chapel. "Oh it’s real, mon petit chou. Don’t you know that good things come to those who wait?"
       "Well, for how long we had to wait, we both must be really, really good!" Monty said.
       The reception was already warming up when the group walked in. The twenty-piece orchestra that Jeff had hired played a welcoming tune, and photographers snapped what were really too many pictures. Agnes and Monty kissed each time a photographer asked.
       "I’d kiss ‘er even if there weren’t film in the blinkin’ cameras!" Monty joked. Agnes laughed and blushed a little. "Oh, Monzy! You are without shame!"
       "I know it, luv. But it’s too late--we’re married now," he said, winking.
       "Very true. We have over fifteen years of kisses to make up for," Agnes said, pulling him to her.
       The kids had taken their places at the reception long ago, enjoying the freedom of walking around. They’d just taken seats at the big dining table when Monty and Agnes arrived. It had the expected effect on them.
       "Lookit! They’re kissing, gross!" Alex said. Barbara was fascinated with the whole spectacle. She repeatedly asked people the pointless questions that four-year-olds inevitably ask. Then she spotted Monty and Agnes
       "Maybe they got married so they could kiss like that. Maybe I should marry Daddy...I like kissing him!" Barbara said. Alex rolled his eyes. "You would like kissing, you’re such a girl."
       Mercy couldn’t take her eyes from the newlyweds. "It’s all so purty! I wish I could get married now." Alex took on the air of authority—after all, he was a full seven months older than the others. "You have to wait till you’re really old before they let you do that."
       Barbara was caught up in the marriage idea now. "It’s silly ta wait! I wanna get married now too. I could marry you, Alex..." She reached for him, and Alex’s eyes grew wide with horror. He leaped off his seat and ran for his life. "MOMMY!!!!!!!!!" The onlookers laughed at the cute scene as Barbara began chasing Alex until he finally reached safety.
       Flashbulbs captured the scene from every angle. Jeff introduced Monty and Agnes to some of his guests and soon everyone found a seat at the large dining table. Monty poked Agnes slightly and winked as Jeff sat down next to Donna Chesnutt. The squirrel had on a sparkling green dress and had her hair done up elegantly.
       "Oh uh, hello there. I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Jeff--Jeff Turner," the editor said. Donna was intrigued by his face. "Uh...hello. I’m Donna Chesnutt. It’s a pleasure to meet you."
       Jeff looked at her and smiled a bit, wondering if this might be a set-up. Then again, the lady was pretty and had a green dress on... "That’s a fine dress you have on. It brings out the color of your eyes so well." Donna became very flustered. It had been years since anyone had complimented her about her appearance. "Why thank you, Jeff. You look very...handsome in that suit."
       "Oh, this old thing? I wore it last year to the Ace Awards. We editors don’t get much. What do you do for a living?" Jeff asked. Donna looked down sheepishly. "I’m a homemaker. Nothing exciting."
       Jeff chuckled. "Nothing exciting? I bet you spend your days heading off 100 different disasters just like I do! I deal with children all day too--just children who expect to get a bonus for a big story. Tell me about your kids."
       Donna was amazed that he was even interested in her. "Well, there’s Tammy, she’s the oldest. She recently started working for the Rescue Rangers as the nanny for their children and then my younger daughter is Binky. She’s a handful, but they are both wonderful girls."
       "I bet they’re a couple of spitfires--girl squirrels always are. I’ve got a sister, Louise, and she was a terror growing up! She was always after a boyfriend!"
       Donna tried not to blush. "Well, Tammy used to be a little...attracted to Chip. He didn’t encourage it, but she just had a very large crush on him. It took quite a while for her to get over it. Bink’s still too young for that sort of thing."
       Jeff looked over at Chip. "I bet he had a time handling her! Louise did all right for herself, though--got married to the British consul for the R.A.S. So do you have interests of your own, Donna, or have you been too busy to indulge like me?"
       Donna was silent for a few moments as she reflected on her life. Married as soon as she was able, took care of home, had kids, took care of husband and kids, widowed, raised kids alone. That was her life in a nutshell. She never had time for interests or hobbies. Her life was taking care of others. "No, Jeff. I’ve been too busy raising my family and looking after my home."
       "That’s refreshing," Jeff said. "So many people are trying to make careers for themselves these days. I’m only forty-three, but I’m already ‘out-to-pasture’ material in the journalism game. I expect that in the next few years I’ll retire and let the next young marvel take over. Say, does your area have good news coverage?"
       Donna hadn’t expected that question. "News coverage? Gossip is the only way information gets around in our area. Thanks to Gadget we’ve had phone service for a couple of years at the park so that makes it a little easier getting information around."
       Jeff’s mental wheels began clicking. "Y’know, what you need is a newspaper--not a daily perhaps, but a weekly would be good. I remember running one with my dad near Lake Bewoegone in the early days. It was a great little operation." Donna was intrigued by the idea. "Well, Central Park is a wonderful place. Especially since the Rangers moved in, it’s the safest it’s ever been. Good people, and if I don’t say so myself, good food. Not this city stuff. Good old fashioned home cooking."
       Jeff beamed a bit at that. It had been years since he’d heard the words "home cooking" in a sentence. "Well, I tell you what. I’d like a sampling of that cooking, and I bet it’s the best around. In exchange, I’ll take you out to Sorvino’s next weekend and we can discuss the idea of a newspaper. What do you think?" Donna dropped her fork in surprise. Sorvino’s was the best restaurant in town! "I, uh...sure! That would be wonderful."
       "I hope I’m not imposing--it’s only that, well, I don’t have many friends and most of them don’t look or speak half as nice as you. A copy editor is a lone wolf and gains the rep of being tough, and it’s earned. I’m rough around the edges, I admit it. But even we need friends that know what decency is. I’ll pick you up next Saturday and after Sorvino’s we can catch the new play opening at the Grand," Jeff said.
       Donna’s heart was racing. She hadn’t been on a date since before she was married and had Tammy. She was terrified at the thought of going on a date, but just enough of the Ranger’s sense of adventure had rubbed off on her to make her take the chance. "That sounds great, Jeff. I’d really like that."
       She hoped the Rangers wouldn’t mind babysitting Bink that night. They had said that Bink and Tammy gave them no trouble whatsoever when they had watched them that first time, so it probably wouldn’t be much of an imposition. Jeff smiled again, and took her hand as he stood. "Come on. I’d like you to meet a few friends." In the next few minutes, Donna was introduced to every high roller in New York. Her natural charm worked wonders on them and Jeff noticed that several of his business partners gave him far less trouble when she was around.
       **Maybe this is the start of something,** Jeff thought. Then he led Donna over to Agnes and Monty. He whispered a couple of words to Donna as they approached.
       "Ace, this was all your doing, wasn’t it?" Jeff asked. Agnes put her hand to her face in mock surprise. "Jeff, how could you say such a thing? It was Monty’s idea."
       "Aggie, you know you had as much to do with it as I did!" Monty said. Jeff patted Donna’s hand. "Well, I want to say thanks. It’s been one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time. Donna’s a great person."
       "Okay, it was our idea," Agnes said. "You’re both our friends and as much as you love the work you’ve both dedicated your lives to, you have been alone long enough. We wanted you to meet and hopefully, you would have some things in common."
       Donna blushed and nodded in understanding. Jeff took on a bit of his practiced gruffness. "Well, you know this old bushytail really well, don’t you? As I told Donna, I’m a copy editor most of the day. But I wouldn’t mind having a lovely friend to spend some time with. Speaking of time, how long is your honeymoon going to be? You know work starts on the new issue of I-M-G next month!" Donna was too stunned by Jeff’s compliments to say anything. She’d forgotten what it felt like to complimented
       Agnes was glad things had gone so well with their little idea. "Well, we’ll see about the next issue. I see that perhaps a novel looms in my future." She turned to Monty and nudged him. "And maybe a few other little things may be in our future."
       A flash of concern came over Jeff’s face. "You’re leaving us? Forever, Ace?" Agnes shook her head. "Never forever, Jeffrey. But a break. This lone wolf has finally found a home. Perhaps I’ll start doing more work stateside or at the office even," Agnes said.
       Jeff breathed a sigh of relief. "Well, you’ve certainly earned a break. And a novel? You mean you’ve finally going to take my advice after all these years and put your experiences together?" Agnes gave a coy look to her new husband. "Yes, I’ve waited till now because the story finally has a happy ending."
       Jeff could see that everything had turned out well. "And you deserve it too, Ace. Oh, that reminds me. I have something for you." Jeff escorted Donna back to the table and Monty and Agnes followed him. Jeff opened an attaché case and pulled out a magazine-sized package in a brown wrapper.
       The proud editor handed it to Agnes. "Open it, Ace. I wanted you to be the first to have a copy of the initial run." Agnes took the bound copy and opened it. The bright colors of the International Mouse-O-Graphic shone with the brand new cover. In the foreground was the full-color picture of her, Monty and Percy with a background showing the R.A.S.C.A.L.S.’ insignia. Across the top of the picture, a banner-sized title read "The Rodents That Saved the World"
       "Oh, Jeff! You’ve outdone yourself!" Agnes said. Jeff enjoyed the compliment. "Hey! Look at the material we had to work with."
       Agnes flipped through the pages as the others looked on with her. There were many period photos from the organization’s operations in the eighties and a picture of the warehouse where Agnes and Monty had spent those glorious, dangerous days. There were also bio pieces on the three heroes, all in-depth including interviews of Agnes’ and Monty’s family members. Monty remembered how eager Cheddarhead was to give Jeff a few quotes (and more than one embarrassing story) about Monty. The Oakmonts and Maplewoods had also volunteered for interviews concerning Agnes--as had many contacts she’d had around the globe. One in particular caused her to laugh.
       "I can’t believe you got an interview with that Prince Ratkin in Siberia! Listen to this—’If only I had been so lucky as to have kept her in my presence. She would be a queen today in my icy empire’. That big-headed egotist!" Agnes laughed.
       Monty looked through the pages with satisfaction. "Well, that issue is a keeper. Of course I’m gonna have a word with me folks for tellin’ that particular story about me to the press." Jeff pulled another copy for Monty. "We wanted the stories to be as complete as possible. Now check out the last story," Jeff said.
       It was the tale of how Ramrod had kidnapped Agnes and of how Monty and the Rangers had tracked him down. A full bio of Ramrod was included as well. They’d learned that Ramrod’s real name was Georg Lietschien Udet. He had infiltrated British operations using the name Justin Parnival and was accepted just like any other recruit into the R.A.S.C.A.L.S.. He had constantly fed information to enemy intelligence and gave bad or outdated information to his supposed comrades. His defeat at the hands of Monty in Brie was the end of one of the most notorious spy careers of the cold war era.
       Monty was flabbergasted. "Crikey! If he hadn’t been crazy for ya Agnes, we might have had those missiles goin’ off!" Agnes nodded, reading the bio. "Lucky for both of us, you mean. I did not realize that Ramrod was so high in their spy network," Agnes said.
       Monty stared at that face that had given him so much trouble. "It’s amazin’ how one little thing can change the course of history." Agnes looked up and took on a tone of mild annoyance. "I do not consider it little! It changed both our lives and kept us apart fifteen years. But maybe it was all worth that price for a free world," Agnes said.
       "True, we fought for others first," Monty said with a level of satisfaction. Agnes hugged his neck. "That makes it all the more satisfying now. And special." Monty returned the hug and kissed her. "We saved the world and we still got each other. I call that a fair deal."
       "As do I, mon petit chou," she whispered. She kissed him again.
       The kids had reconciled after Barbara’s humorous chase and now they were getting their turn at seeing the story about Monty and Agnes. "Look at the picture of that place with the roses! It’s purty!" Barbara said.
       Mercy was reading everything her level of education would allow. "I’d like to be a writer and have my picture in a magazine too."
       "Me first! Me first!" Barbara said.
       Alex was still cross from being the victim of the chase. "You could be on ‘stupid girl’ magazine." Mercy couldn’t resist a chance to poke fun at her brother. "An’ Alex could be on there with her when they get married!" Barbara and Mercy started to giggle, and Alex just sat back and pouted at his sister’s stinging retort.
       Gadget had seen this last exchange and took Alex and Mercy off to one side. "Mercy, you shouldn’t tease your brother like that. He’s very sensitive. And Alex, you shouldn’t egg them on. Now apologize to each other."
       Alex didn’t feel like apologizing. "I’m sorry you’re a girl..." Gadget’s voice took on a forceful tone. "Alexander Sean Maplewood...."Alex sighed—he knew his mom meant business. "I’m sorry I was mean, Mercy."
       "So am I, Alex. Sorry," Mercy said.
       Percy, who had been notably absent during all this, approached the main table with Zipper at his side. He raised a glass and tapped it with a teaspoon to gain everyone’s attention. "Excuse me? Excuse me everyone, but in cooperation with Zipper here I would like to read a few words that he has asked me to read in honor of Monterey and Agnes’ wedding."
       Percy adjusted his glasses. "I would like to say a few words in honor of my friend and constant companion, Monterey Colby Jack Erskine. We met what seemed to be such a short time ago. He befriended me at once and made me feel wanted. We made our way through every port and cheese factory on all seven continents. I enjoyed every moment, just seeing all the different sides of the world, and also how many helpings of cheese Monty could handle at once."
       After the appreciative laughter, Percival continued. "I must admit that I was not prepared for what would happen next. We found new friends in the Rescue Rangers. They took us in and made us a family--well, practically that is until just recently my good friend Dale officially made me a part of his family and thus a part of Monty’s as well. That was the best day I’d ever had, so I also have a debt of gratitude to pay to Agnes Oakmont for coming back into Monty’s life. Now I am part of both their families and richer for the day I met them both. May they continue to be as happy as they are right now and, whatever the future holds, I will be honored to remain a true and loyal comrade as I have ever been to him and now to them."
       Monty hugged his friend gently. "Zip, I’m touched. You’ve always been the best friend to me."
       "Zipper, that was wonderful," Agnes said. Zipper hugged them both in return. "I too wish to thank you, Zipper," Agnes added. "You have been such a good friend to Monzy and I want you to know that I always want you to be with us. You are a special little fly, mon ami."
       Monty looked at his gathered friends and family. He couldn’t believe he’d ended up this happy or content. Monty picked up his glass in salute. "To all of us, each and everyone here. Yer all the best friends and family a guy could ever have."
       As one, the group found glasses and returned the salute. Then Agnes tugged on Monty’s shoulder. She looked over at the orchestra. "Perhaps this orchestra would know something besides the tango, eh Monzy?"
       "Yeah, maybe the chicken dance," Monty said. Monty took her arm and the proceeded to the center of the dance floor. Monty directed a look to the orchestra, the conductor nodded and the music began.
       "Ah, a waltz! How refreshing," Agnes said. The mystic strains of "Roses From the South" filled the room. Monty took Agnes in his arms and soon Strauss led them and the others into the dreamland of music.
       Two weeks later, Monty and Agnes were dancing again. They had decided to spend their honeymoon in France and had returned to the site of the old cheese warehouse. The building was no longer there, but the roses were. Still, they didn’t mind--the old victrola they’d brought along played merrily as they danced among the roses. The orchestra of their minds played the perfect tango as they looked lovingly into each other’s eyes. The rose and the brie were together again, and no dream could have compared to the reality they now shared as one.

Agnes Oakmont, Percival Montgomery, Felix Nighter and Ramrod are original characters of Indy and Chris Silva. The Rescue Rangers are copyright Disney and used without permission, but with the utmost respect