The Spy Who Loved Monty
With the frivolity of the day over, everyone retired to bed. When dawn broke anew, 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 something...is 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 man...er, 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 went inside and stopped 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.