The Spy Who Loved Monty
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 a child. 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 Three, Part One