Written by: Charles Gray
Disclaimer: Baloo, Rebecca Cunningham, Don Karnage, Kit Cloudkicker, Molly Cunningham and WildCat are (c)1990/1991 Walt Disney Company and are being used without premission. The writer has made sure that all material represented here is not used for profit and is used with the upmost respect to Disney and the Tale Spin team. All other characters are the property of the writer.
“Y’know Beckers,” Baloo said tiredly as they trudged up towards her apartment. Kit and Molly were still at Higher for Hire, but Rebecca had decided to get some records to make an early start of it tomorrow, “There’s no reason why this couldn’t have waited until the sun comes up.”
“Ha!” Rebecca retorted. “If I know you, by the time you’re up tomorrow, the sun will be going down!” Baloo’s retort was lost as Becky opened the front door to the apartment, turned on the lights, then stopped with a gasp.
The place had been trashed. Tables and chairs were overturned, cabinets and bookshelves ransacked, and furniture had been disarrayed. Even the lights had been damaged. Becky looked around, stunned, as did Baloo.
“Oh my God!” Rebecca cried out, and went to rush into the ruined apartment. Baloo caught her with one hand and held her back.
“Ah... Beckers?” He asked. "What’s wrong. What got stolen?” He sat down besides her and waited. Finally, the bearess turned a tearstreaked face up to him.
“My-my and David’s album.” She said, taking in a shuddering breath.
“My husband.” She said, “It wasn’t just photo’s, Baloo. It was letters, all the letters we had written to each other before we got married... photo’s of our dates, the place we went to get engaged... It’s all gone. I was saving it for Molly, so she could know about her father, and, and it’s all gone. .”
Rebecca hid her face in her hands, and started crying again. “They had no right to take it. It didn’t mean anything to them why did they want it, why couldn’t they have just taken the money?” she finished, almost babbling. Baloo put his arm around her.
“Now, Bosslady. Lets call the cops and get them over here before we go rushin’ into this place.” The bear left his boss at the door, and gingerly stepped into the room, where the phone had miraculously remained untouched and on the hook. He picked it up, and quickly called the police. After getting the police, the large gray bear put down the phone and went back to the door. Rebecca was still standing at the door, hands twisting her purse strap, as she looked around the destroyed room.
“I cannot believe they did this!” Becky yelled, “How dare they... and why did they destroy my home!” Baloo put a hand on her shoulder, looking closely at her. The petite bearess was actually trembling, angry and shocked by the violation.
“Now, Beckers,” Baloo said, “You know that a lot of folks don’t trust the banks... they probably were hoping to find a money stash somewhere in the place.” With a cheery ring, the elevator opened, with two police officers in it. The first, a thin Cheetah, walked up to the two, while his partner scanned the lobby.
“I’m officer Wilkins. Are you the gentleman who called this in?” He asked Baloo.
“Got that right.” Baloo answered.
“Do you own this apartment?”
“I do,” Rebecca said. “He’s my employee and we were coming back to get some records for the company.” The officer looked at her a moment, then nodded.
“Very well. If you could do us the favor of staying out here. It’s unlikely that anyone is still there, but it pays to be certain. Did you touch anything, Mr.?”
“Just Baloo. Nope, I only used the phone.”
“I see. Well, then we’ll see about getting some fingerprints later. I’m afraid that You might have to make arrangements to sleep somewhere else tonight, Ma’am... We won’t be finished for several hours.” Rebecca nodded, shakily.
It only took the officers a few minutes to discover that there was nobody left in the house, and that the entire apartment was in the same condition as the front rooms. Rebecca and Baloo waited, while other officers, some carrying camera’s and dusting equipment, entered the apartment. Finally, Wilkins came back out.
“The fellow, whoever he was, entered from the roof, then cut a hole in one of the windows facing the waterfall, where nobody could see, and the sound of the falls masked his entrance.” The officer shrugged. “Normally, these things happen because someone left a door open, but this fellow was pretty good. Is there anything in here that might attract such attention, Ms. Cunningham?” Rebecca shook her head.
“I keep some records here, but nothing that would be worth anything. All the money is either in the bank or down at Higher For Hire, in the safe.” she paused, “Can I go inside?”
“Not yet.” The police officer answered. “This fellow is just good enough that we’d like to get a complete dusting of the property. I’ll call you tomorrow, and we can have a car take you to a hotel.” Becky shook her head.
“No, I’ll just head back to Higher for Hire.” The bearess turned around and walked back out the door, Baloo looked after her, before the officer tapped him on the arm.
“Mr. Baloo.” Baloo turned and looked own on the cheetah. “I’d go with her. A robbery like this,” he gestured at the damaged furnishings, the spilled items on the rug., “is almost as traumatizing as a personal mugging.” The bear nodded, jerkily, then went after Rebecca. He needed no convincing there.
It wasn’t until the car had almost reached Hire for Higher that Rebecca spoke again.
“When the police get them I’m going to make them wish they were never born! That is my and Molly’s house they trashed.” Then, without missing a beat, she turned to Baloo, “Oh Baloo... How am I going to explain this to Molly? It took her long enough to get used to living in Cape Suzzette... and now this!” Baloo hadn’t thought of that either.
“Well, Beckers,” He started, then realized how upset Rebecca was when she didn’t even lodge a pro forma protest against the nickname. “Maybe we should just concentrate on getting the place back in shape tomorrow. Me ‘an Kit can help, and Wildcat can fix anything that’s broken.” Becky looked down, evidently thinking.
“Yes.” She said, “Yes, we don’t have any shipments tomorrow, and I was just going to get an early start on the inventory.” She nodded, “And Molly and Wildcat get along famously. But,” She continued, “I want Molly and Wildcat to stay at Higher for Hire, at least until we’ve got the majority of the mess cleaned up.”
“Good Idea, Bosslady.” Baloo said, as the car turned into the street fronting Higher for Hire.
Molly needed no convincing to stay at H&H-- hammocks were an adventure for her. As night drew on, Rebecca was the only one still awake. The creaks and groans of the old structure, normally almost unnoticeable, now intruded with every new sound. She bolted upright, out of the overstuff chair where she had been snoozing, as she heard a car drive off down the street.
“Your getting paranoid, Rebecca.” She muttered to herself, as she went over and check on Molly, who was sleeping like a baby. Coming back, she tried to find herself a comfortable position, “Thank God that Kit and Molly weren’t there.” She murmured, before dropping off to an uneasy sleep.
The next morning, the entire crew, minus Molly and Wildcat, trooped back up to the apartment. The police had called, letting Rebecca know that she could go back up, and that all evidence had been collected. Kit hadn’t seen the apartment, and as he got up to the door, he sucked in his breath at the sight.
“oh... wow. Papa Bear... Where do we start?” Becky took charge.
“We start by picking up all the silverware and plates. Baloo, I’ll get a trashcan, and we’ll just dump in any broken items.” She looked around. “Once we have a clear space out here, we can start on the rest of the house.”
“You got it, Bosslady,” Baloo said with exaggerated cheer, “We’ll have everything clean up in a jiffy.” The older bear was optimistic. The further they got into the house, the more destruction became apparent. Both Rebecca’s and Molly’s bed’s had had the mattresses and pillows slashed, most of Molly’s dolls had been pulled apart, the stuffing strewn over the floor by the handful, and every drawer had been pulled out and dumped onto the floor. Kit sat to work, trying to fix the dolls, and pricking himself on the finger more then he hit the cloth.
By lunch, they had gotten finished with the outer room, and enough of the other rooms had been cleared that Rebecca sat to organizing everything by herself. Baloo and Kit waited for the glass to replace the damaged window at the rear of the main room. With Kit on a stepladder guiding him in, Baloo moved the frame. With no glass between them and the waterfall, the noise was deafening.
“Almost... Up a little, Papa Bear...O.K.... Got it!” Kit proclaimed in satisfaction, his brow damp with sweat and mist. Baloo clamped it in place, then walked back to a chair, sitting down in satisfaction (and more then a little out of breath). “It almost looks like new, Baloo.” Kit said, looking around the living room.
“Yeah... except me’an Rebecca are going to be shopping. You mark my words Little Britches... I’m going to be going with her to every sale this side of-” Baloo stopped, at the sound of a strangled cry from the rear of the apartment, from Rebecca’s room. The large bear got up, walking down the hallway, Kit in tow. When he came to her room, Baloo looked in, and stopped short in shock. The room had almost been completely repaired, now it was a shambles again, with Rebecca opening everything in sight, rooting through it, throwing items to the wind.
“It can’t be gone.... It wasn’t worth anything to anyone else!” She snarled/wept, looking through. She turned at Baloo’s entrance. “Baloo!! Did you see a brown photo album?”
“No, Bosslady,” Baloo said, scratching his head. “I didn’t. Remember, Kit and I were looking for anything like books or records.” Becky had turned back and was now halfway under the bed, feeling her way. Finally she came back out from under the bed, and sat on its edge. Then, to Baloo’s and Kit’s shock, she put her face in her hands and began to cry. Kit looked back and forth.
“I’ll call Wildcat to see how he’s doing, Papa Bear,” the cub said, before leaving the two of them alone. Baloo approached, uncertain of what to do. Rebecca was more prone to yelling then crying, which made handling this all the harder.
“Ah... Beckers?” He asked, “What’s w” Rebecca hid her face in her hands, and started crying again. “They had no right to take it. It didn’t mean anything to them why did they want it, why couldn’t they have just taken the money?” she finished, almost babbling. Baloo put his arm around her.
“Rebecca.” He said, “Why don’t you go down to H&H, and me an Kit’ll finish up here. I’ll hit the cops and see if they’ve found it, and let know to look out for it.” he paused. “Maybe you an Molly should stay at H&H for the next couple of days... until you feel better.” She looked up at him, face tearstreaked.
“Your right.” She said, drawing a shuddering breath. “I’ll be no good to anyone here, and I’ll need to be at my best to explain this to Molly. I’ll pack.” She said, getting up and walking over to the clothes strewn about the dresser. Baloo turned to leave. “Baloo?”
Rebecca left, Baloo staying with her until the cab arrived. The gray bear turned around and returned to the apartment, letting kit continue with the clean up, while he called the police.
“Little Britches,” Baloo said, “I’m gonna go down town and see if I can light a fire under those flatfoots. You head back to H&H before it gets dark, ok?”
“Sure Baloo.” Kit paused, “What was in the album? I mean, I’ve never seen Ms. Cunningham so upset.” Baloo paused,
“A lot of stuff about her life before she came here, Kit. I... I don’t think that I should be the one to say any more about it, kay?”
“OK.” Kit said, turning and boxing another series of broken dishes.
The fifth precinct house was old, one of the older buildings in Cape Suzzette. It had seen riots, fires, and typhoons, and now, Baloo was adding his anger to the mix.
“Whatdya mean ‘Give it up.’?” Baloo demanded. The detective he was talking to, a tired looking fox, ran his hand back through his thinning black hair. He sighed.
“Mr. Bear, the item you have described has no physical value, right?” Baloo nodded. “Then it is probably in a dump somewhere and if you want to find it, that is where you should go.”
“They’d throw it away!?” Baloo demanded.
“Why not? It can’t get them anything except trouble. Better to get rid of it. Now I can’t help you, because the thief left no fingerprints, and it is unlikely that we will close this case anytime soon. If you really want to pursue this, I can give some private detectives that I know of...” The Fox tore a piece of paper off a note pad, and wrote down several addresses and names on it. “There. Even so, I wouldn’t hold out much hope.”
“Well if you would do your job,” Baloo retorted, as the fox looked up, irritation on his face.
“We do ‘do our job.’, Mr. Bear. However, the city has grown, and nobody has yet thought to increase the size of the police. I might add that there are dozens of cases like this every week, each one just as traumatic to the victims as this one was. We do our best; believe me, we know that sometimes it’s not enough. Good day.” With that, the fuming bear found himself out on the street, looking at the addresses on the paper.
“’Do our best....’ I’ll bet.” The bear muttered, before heading off to find a phone.
Back at H&H, Rebecca moped around the office, managing to finish work, even though her heart wasn’t in it at all. The door opened, admitting Kit, who walked in, then tip toed the rest of the way, seeing that Molly had fallen asleep in Baloo’s shabby, yet comfortable armchair.
“Ms. Cunningham?” Kit asked, “do you have anything else for me to do? I cleaned up the rest of the apartment.”
“Thanks Kit.” Rebecca replied. “You didn’t...”
“No, Ms. Cunningham.” Kit said, “And I looked under everything, even outside the apartment, in case they lost it while they were leaving.” Becky gave a halfsmile to Kit. “Ah, Ms. Cunningham?”
“What was in it... I mean, just in case they get rid of the cover, is there anything in it that really stands out?” Kit waited, afraid that he had said something wrong, as the silence stretched out.
“Pictures....” Rebecca said, softly. “Letters, Pictures, a few badly done poems... and the worlds most expensive pressed flower.”
“Huh?” Kit said, intelligently. Rebecca laughed softly.
“You know how you can take a flower and preserve it by pressing it in a book?”
“Yes.” Kit said, still not comprehending. Becky continued.
“Well, on the front leaf, there’s a flower like that. It’s probably the most expensive thing in the book.”
“It must be rare.” Kit said.
“Not at all, Kit. It’s just a regular wildflower.” Rebecca paused, “You see, when David and I were thirteen, there was a Spring picnic. Everyone was in their best... Mom and Dad bought me a white dress... probably the most expensive piece of clothing I’ve ever owned. David’s parents had him in a suit, just as expensive.” She looked down at her hands. “Well, we were walking behind the church, just before the photograph was to be taken, and I saw this beautiful flower on the embankment behind the building.” She laughed. “David decided to be gallant and get it, but we didn’t realize that they had just watered that morning, and the slope was more mud the anything else. Halfway up there, he sank up to his shins, and when I went up to rescue him, all I did was pull us both back down, tumbling the whole way. There wasn’t a single spot on either of us that wasn’t covered in mud or thistles... the clothes were absolutely ruined!”
“Were your parents upset?” Kit asked. This was a side of Ms. Cunningham he had never seen before!
“Upset doesn’t begin to cover it, Kit. Mother burst into tears, and Father was too furious to speak for the next hour. I was grounded for the next month. I think that David got the same treatment, plus a pretty bad whipping... at least he didn’t sit down that much at school for the next couple of days.” Rebecca blushed, remembering the long ago scolding. “Anyway, I was devastated, so the next day at school, I started crying when some of the other students teased me about it, even though they weren’t being mean, just having some fun. I was sitting alone at lunch, when David showed up. He didn’t say anything, just sat down by me, and gave me a wrapped package. In it, was the flower, pressed between two plates of glass.” Rebecca fell silent. Kit looked up, and realized that she was seeing the long ago day, walking in a place where only she and her husband had been. The petite bearess shook her head, and turned to Kit. “Anyway, that’s the story of the flower... pretty ridiculous isn’t it.”
“No.” Kit quietly said, “Not at all, Ms. Cunningham.” Rebecca smiled at him, then stood up.
“And with that, Mr. Cloudkicker, how about we roust Molly and Wildcat and find a place to have lunch. It’s no good just moping about here... It just makes things worse.” Kit nodded, then got up and walked out, calling for Wildcat.
Baloo walked into the office, looking at the irritable sounding fox on the phone.
“I know you owe them money, Mr. Ster, but there’s nothing my boss can do... No, we don’t get the Mob off peoples back. Yes I can suggest someone to help you... do you know any undertakers? Well that’s all the help your going to get from here!” She finished, slamming down the phone. Baloo came up to the desk.
“Pardon me, ah.”
“Mabell, but call me Maven... everyone does.” She said, throwing a file into the waste basket. “Well, we won’t be dealing with Mr. Shy Ster any more... not unless he comes up with the money to pay off the mob!”
“That’s real nice,” Baloo said, “But can I talk to your boss?” Mabell looked up at him, then nodded, “Why not? It’s not as if he’s busy.”
“I heard that, Maven.” A deep voice boomed out. “I’ll have you know I’m working hard back here.”
“At his snoring, maybe.” With a wave, she ushered Baloo back into the office. It was a dingy corner office, with an old fan arthritically trying to move the thick air, make thicker still by the occupants cigar. Behind a desk that had seen better days, or perhaps decades, piled high with old newspapers, was a badger looking nearly as old, much of his hair thinning, revealing a shiny pate.
“So, Ah, what’s your problem?” He asked, leaning back in his protesting swivel chair. Baloo wisely did not trust his bulk to the chair at the other side of the desk, and remained standing.
“Well, I’m looking for some stolen merchandise?”
“I’m not a fence.”
“I know,” Baloo said, “The cops told me you might be able to help me. It was stolen from my bosses house.” He launched into the story. By the time he had finished, the Badger was looking at him speculatively.
“The cops are probably right. Something like that would only be trouble to keep. If I was a crook, I’d trash or burn it.” Baloo pulled out the money he had taken from his stash at H&H earlier that morning.
“Here’s 200 bucks to try... I can scrape up some more if you need it.” The Badger paused, then pushed the money back.
“Well, you know, I lost my wife about two years ago... I’ll give you a hand on this, gratis, unless we find it. No garuntee’s you understand?” Baloo nodded. The Badger stuck out his hand. “Good! Stan McGrady at your service.” He grinned, “Besides, this is more like my old job with the police then staring in windows to see if husbands are cheating on their wives.” He stood up and got a battered jacket, also pulling down a shoulder holster and checking the revolver before putting it on. “Well Mr. Bear.... are you ready to go hunting?”
“Where do we go first?” Baloo asked,
“The apartment, always check for tracks at the scene of the crime. We’ve wasted enough time here. Let’s go.”
Baloo sat in the living Room of Rebecca’s apartment. In the months and year since she had come to Cape Suzzette, he had seen the apartment go from cold and empty to homelike, furnished in Becky’s style. Now it had returned to being an apartment, waiting until its owners would come to occupy it again, freeing it of the miasma the thieves had left.
“Well?” The bear asked, impatiently.
“The cops were right.” the detective said, “These fellows were hoping your boss would stash her money in a pillow... a lot of people do.”
“Then why’d they take the album?” Baloo angrily asked. “No money in that.”
“not right away...” The detective murmured.
“What do you mean?” Baloo said.
“Well, if they’re smart, they’ve dumped it, and there is nothing we can do. But if they’re only middlin’ smart, well then, you lady boss might pay a pretty penny to get this album back.”
“You mean they’d hold a book for ransom?” Baloo asked, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Anything valuable can be held for ransom.” McGrady said, “and this album is valuable to Ms. Cunningham.” He thought for a second. “Well, we’ll have to wait on that, but there is one thing we can do.”
“And that is?” McGrady grinned at Baloo, then reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a pair of rubber gloves.
“Well son, we’re going ta have to check out the dump, so I hope those aren’t your best clothes.”
Back at Higher For Hire, Rebecca and the others had returned from lunch. Kit had taken Molly outside to play, while the reassuring sound of Wildcat, working on the Seaduck floated in the open windows. Rebecca was finally beginning to get back to speed on the paperwork, even if her heart still wasn’t in it.
With an unpleasant jangling, the phone rang, startling Rebecca.
“Higher For Hire, how can I help you?” Becky asked, still looking at the paperwork on the desk.
“Well yesssss, ‘Dearest Rebecca’” An unpleasant, mocking voice said.
Dearest Rebecca? That was what Davi- She broke off the thought and spoke.
“Who is this?” Rebecca asked, even as she gripped the receiver so hard her knuckles whitened.
“Well now, Mizzz Cunningham, I don’t think that’s important.” The voice made the title Ms., into an obscenity. “I think I have something you want, and I hope you’re willing to pay for it.”
“Oh really,” Becky tried to keep her voice calm. “And what is it that I want?”
“You’re little album.” A laugh, “I love some of these gushy letters, especially all the bad poetry you two wrote back and forth. You should consider sending some of it into the Sunday funnies...” Rebecca didn’t say anything for a moment, and then spoke. To anyone who didn’t know her, her voice sounded almost normal.
“And what do you want for it?”
“Ohhhh.... I was thinking about 2 thousand dollars should compensate me for my time and trouble.” A note of indignation came into the voice, “You didn’t have a thing worth boosting in that place of yours, even the silverware was just plated! So I figured that you must keep your stash in the bank.” Rebecca closed her eyes for a moment, swaying.
“I can’t get that much money.” She said, “I don’t have that much.”
“Well, that’s too bad. Ya’know, maybe you’re right, I mean this stuff works wonders as kindling... lights up my fireplace just something wonderful. Of course, you could be thinking that I’m lying....” There was a pause at the phone. “Tell ya what. I’ll call back in a few, but why don’t you go out back and check your garbage... You see what I mean.” There was a click as the phone went dead in her hand.
Rebecca sat back in the chair, too stunned to think, or for that matter feel anything. She didn’t even react when the door banged open.
“Hey Bosslady!” Baloo said, as an unpleasant odor wafted ahead of him. “I can explain the smell, Rebecca. Me and a detective, here he is, We were well, we were looking for your book at the dump.” McGrady slipped in behind the bear and nodded to Rebecca, meanwhile checking out the office. “Good news, too. It’s not there! I-” Baloo noticed Rebecca’s stunned expression. “Rebecca? Are you ok?”
“Baloo?” Rebecca turned to him. “Could... could you check the garbage out back?” She took a shuddering breath. “Someone called. They said they had it, and told me to look out back in the garbage for proof. I- I’ll just sit here for a minute.” The bearess didn’t say anything else, just sat, her hands in her lap, the fingers twisting around each other like wounded animals. Baloo and McGrady looked at each other then walked into the back of the building, going out the rear door. There was only one garbage can there, trash pick up had been yesterday.
Baloo opened the lid, then stopped. On top of the garbage were two sheets, stained with oil, crumpled and torn and then hastily flattened again. Much of the handwriting had been obliterated, but Baloo could see that the top paper’s words had been written in a graceful script much like Becky’s. The one under it had a more sprawled out casual look to it, as if the person writing it wasn’t so worried about saving space and time. Baloo reached down to get the paper, and McGrady slapped his hand back.
“Uh-uh. Fingerprints, remember?”
“oh, yeah, fingerprints.” Baloo said, mind still occupied with what he would have to tell Rebecca. “Are you going to get them?” He asked the badger, who produced a pair of bags and tweezers, from yet another pocket in his coat. McGrady skillfully moved the desecrated letters to the bags, then sealed them shut.
“OK.” The badger said, running one hand through his thinning silver hair. “I’ve gotta get these downtown... maybe see if I can call in some favors to get them checked out.”
“I’m coming with you!” Baloo exclaimed.
“No, you’re not.” McGrady retorted. “In case you haven’t noticed, your boss is in shock, and I need someone here. If they call back, try to stall them... it’s Friday, so tell’em you can’t pull any money out of the bank until Monday. That should stop em for a bit... Got it!” Baloo nodded unwillingly, and McGrady headed off to the station. Baloo turned around and walked back into the building, every step harder then the last.
Rebecca was still in the same position when Baloo came back into the office, not moving as the bear walked up and turned the OPEN sign around to CLOSED. Kit and Molly were on the pier, Kit showing Molly how to fish, or in this case, how to lose lots of worms off a hook. Baloo turned around and walked back to the desk.
“There were papers in there.” Becky said, not asking a question.
“Yeah, Beckers.” Baloo paused, then sighed. “There were two letters in their. I.. didn’t read them, but one looked like it was your writing, and there was another one.”
“That would have been David’s.” Rebecca said quietly. Then. “He said that he burned some of them...to light his fireplace.” Her words started coming a little faster. “It would be easy enough, I guess, just put them in the fireplace and light them, then theywouldallgoupjustinapuffof-” Baloo put one hand over Rebecca’s, stilling her increasingly shrill voice.
“Now Becky.” Baloo said calmingly. “He wouldn’t just burn it, cause he might need it. He just said that to you to try to get you all frightened so you would pay him without trying anything else.” The gray bear paused. “Now this McGrady fellow says that we need to stall ‘em if we call them back, and since we can’t get the money out until Monday...”
“We can’t get it at all, Baloo.” Rebecca said, eyes misting. “He wants two thousand dollars, and there’s no way I can get that.” She looked up at him, “That would be everything we have, with no reserve. If anything happened...”
“What’s more important then that Album, Bosslady?” Rebecca looked back up at Baloo.
“A home for Molly, a future for Kit, even a job for you and Wildcat. I can’t risk that.” Baloo smiled at Rebecca.
“Now, I think you need to ask us before you go making that kind of sacrifice, Beckers. Me’an Wildcat can work for free for a while if it comes down to it, and that’d keep Kit and Molly from having to scrimp. Besides, I think that this album is part of Molly’s home, if you know what I mean.” Rebecca looked like she might cry again, then obviously, pulled herself together.
“Well, there’s nothing we can do until Detective McGrady gets back now, is there.”
“Nope. So, you want me to fix you something to eat?” Baloo asked. Rebecca smiled, a ghostly wavering smile, but still a smile.
“No Baloo, I don’t want to add food poisoning to my problems.”
“I was going to fix you something, but if you like your own cooking so much...”
“Now Rebecca, you know I never argue with the boss.” Baloo said, backing down gracefully.
The precinct house was crowded, both with police officers and inmates caught getting an early start on the weekend. McGrady stood in front of the same tired fox that Baloo had confronted earlier.
“So you took the case?” the fox asked, incredulously.
“Well, yeah. What’d you expect I’d do, Dave?”
“Let him down easy. You know that there is no chance of that album being found.” McGrady smiled,
“Oh ye of little faith. Our burglars didn’t find anything worth fencing in the apartment, so they’re trying to extort money out of the lady.”
“And? We still got no evidence.”
“Oh yes we do,” McGrady said, pulling out the pouches. He explained what was in them to the detective.
“Hmmmm. And you want me to run them through R&I.” He paused, “I don’t know... how can I clear it with the captain?”
“Simple.” McGrady smiled. “They’re extorting money out of the lady, at least 2K. That puts it into a class A felony... 10 to 25 years. That makes you look good. It’s a nice human interest story, showing how the Cape Suzzette PD doesn’t just go after big money cases, which makes the captain look good. Everyone wins.”
“heh.” The fox laughed, “And you couldn’t care less about any of that, McGrady. Still, you’re right, and you were the best partner I ever had. Besides, I’ll enjoy putting these idiots away.” The fox got up, and took the pouch from McGrady, and placed them, with a note in a cylinder. He dropped it in the Pneumatic tube, and watched it rocket up the tube, disappearing into the ceiling. He turned back to McGrady. I’ll call you when we get any info. At your office?” McGrady gave him a paper.
“This is the number for Higher For Hire, if you can’t get me at the office, I’ll be there.” Dave took the paper, and put it in his pocket. “Thanks, Dave.” McGrady turned to leave.
“Be careful... remember, it doesn’t matter how worthless the punk is if they’ve got a gun.”
“Don’t worry, Dave. I’ll watch myself. If worse comes to worst, I’ll just dodge behind Baloo.” He waved, and left, heading back to Higher for Hire. By the time he got back, the sun was sinking towards the horizon, casting long shadows into the city, some parts already in darkness as it sank behind the cliffs. Higher For Hire was already in that shadow, a chill fog beginning to invade the streets and alleys near the harbor. McGrady knocked on the Door, and Baloo let him in.
“What’d you find out?” The bear demanded. McGrady walked further in, and took off his jacket, ignoring Molly’s wide eyed gaze at the ugly, use-worn revolver in its shoulder holster. He went up to Rebecca.
“Ms. Cunningham.” He said, holding out his hand. Becky had dark circles under her eyes, but her grip was firm, and she met his gaze squarely.
“Mr. McGrady. I’m told you’re the detective that Baloo hired? What have you found out?” McGrady sat down and looked at Rebecca.
“Well, Ms. Cunningham, we’ll have to wait to see if the police can lift any fingerprints off of the paper, and if they can, we might be able to wrap this up immediately.”
“What if I pay?” Rebecca asked. Baloo looked up at that. She sounded almost... beaten, as if this injury had pierced the toughness that normally surrounded the businesswoman.
“Then they’ll probably destroy it immediately. Giving it back to you simply increases the chance of them getting caught.” McGrady told her, “In fact, they’ll probably just keep extorting money out of you until you can’t pay anymore, and then destroy it.” Rebecca swayed, eyes closing. “But,” McGrady continued, “They won’t do that until they think they don’t need it anymore.”
Rebecca nodded and sat down, then shot out of her seat as the phone rang again. She looked at it for a moment like it might grow fangs and bite her, then picked it up.
“Higher For Hire, may I help you?” She said, then relaxed slightly, “Yes, he’s right here.” She held out the phone to McGrady. “It’s for you.” McGrady grabbed the phone, nodding at Rebecca.
“Yeah, this is McGrady. Dave? Did you get the prints? I see.... Well, that certainly changes things...” The badger paused, then spoke into the phone again. “Dave, if ya could, get the phone company to run a trace on the line? Yeah, I’ll owe you.... Thanks! First rounds on me! Bye.” He hung the phone back up.
“Well??” Rebecca asked.
“We got prints, and they’re of a fellow known to us. Willy the Snake, just got out of jail three weeks ago, skipped out on his parole officer, and hasn’t been seen since.” McGrady paused, “I figure he’s trying to get a big enough stash to leave town.” The badger grinned fiercely. “too bad he’s going back to jail.”
“How?” Baloo demanded, “You would have told us if you know where he’s staying.”
“I don’t have to. We wait until he calls, then trace the phone.”
“So he uses a pay phone.”
“Don’t teach me my job, Baloo.” McGrady snapped, “If he uses a pay phone, he probably walks there, and I doubt he’s bright enough to leave his neighborhood.... how do you think we got him in the first place?” He turned to Rebecca. “Ms. Cunningham, we need you to keep him on the line, for at least five minutes. I’ll use the payphone outside to talk to the operator, but you need to keep him on the line as long as possible.”
“I understand.” Rebecca said, sitting back down.
“Good. I know this is hard, Ms. Cunningham, but we’ll get it back. Trust me.” Rebecca nodded.
The night darkened, the lights of the city piercing the gloom in some places, adding to it in others. In Higher For Hire, Kit and Molly had long since fallen asleep, as Rebecca and Baloo dozed by the phone. McGrady was also asleep, with the skill honed in hundreds of slow stake outs. Abruptly, the phone rang, shattering the dark silence. Becky shot up, reaching out and grabbing the phone almost before she had fully awakened.
“Hello?” An all too familiar and unpleasant voice answered her.
“What are you doing there? I called your apartment twice!” Becky glared at the phone.
“Well, you have me now.” She answered, waving at McGrady, as the badger nodded and went outside to the pay phone.
“Do you have what I want, or does your dear dead hubby’s love letters get toasted.” Becky winced, then looked at the clock. She had to keep him on for the next five minutes.
“Well, how do I know you have it?”
“Those trashcan letters didn’t convince you?”
“Maybe those are the only ones you have.” There was silence at the other end of the phone.
“Well, hang one a minute, and I’ll get your book.”
Outside, McGrady was on the pay phone.
“Do’ya have a trace yet?” He demanded.
“No sir, it will be at least five more minutes...”
“Well, get it as fast as possible.”
Back inside, the man came back to the phone.
“Well, now that I have your little love fest book, let me see what to read.... How about the school prom... or maybe the Easter Festival, or maybe...” The sneering voice continued, mockingly listing off some of the most precious moments of Becky’s life. Baloo looked at his boss. Her body was rigid, face set like pale marble... and her eyes were like open wounds. “Oh, here’s a good one... Hubby wrote a letter to his little kid. Heh, that’s a waste, he didn’t even know what sex the little warf-rat would be. Shall I begin?” Tears were beginning to mark trails down Rebecca’s cheeks, but her voice was steady as she answered.
“Go on....” She closed her eyes as the voice read off the letter, adding its own mocking, hateful comments to the gentle words written down by her dead husband.
Outside, McGrady was still on the phone.
“You’ve got it... it is!? You’re kidding... a residential phone?” He scribbled down the address on a piece of paper. “Thanks!” Darting back to Higher For Hire, far faster then a man his age should have gone, McGrady burst into the room. Rebecca was still on the phone, Baloo with his hands on her shoulders, lending his support to her. McGrady walked up quietly, took out a pencil and wrote in large strokes: HAVE ADDRESS, KEEP ON PHONE, C’MON BALOO.
Baloo looked down at Rebecca, who nodded back up at him. With that, the bear and badger went outside, where McGrady’s car was. Becky turned back to the phone, now with a different, fierce expression on her face.
“Well, you may have my book, but how do I know I’ll get it back if I give you the money? I’m a businesswoman after all, and I demand some kind of garuntee of service...” The petite bearess launched into the discussion, using all of her negotiation skills to keep him on the phone.
Fortunately, there was little traffic at the late hour, and Baloo and McGrady came to a nondescript, rundown block of apartments, actually not too far from Higher For Hire. McGrady killed the lights and turned to Baloo.
“How are you heeled?”
“What?” McGrady sighed, and reached into the glove compartment, pulling out a .45 pistol.
“Here, take this.”
“Now, look I don’t really-”
“Baloo. The guy in there is a three time loser... this time, when he goes back to jail, he’s not getting out for at least 50 years... men have killed to avoid a lot less, and you can either take the gun, or stay in here.”
“Alright... I’ll take it, but I won’t use it.” McGrady looked at him.
“Fair enough. Lets go.” The two got out of the car and walked past the door, barely hanging on rusted hinges. The lobby of the apartment block was deserted, save for some rats that quickly scurried off. McGrady checked the registry.
“Room 512, good.”
“No roof access, and this building has no fire escapes.... unless he can fly, he’s ours.” They went up the creaking stairway, McGrady trying to avoid making noise, and Baloo trying to avoid falling through the rotted wood.
Finally, at room 512, they both paused, listening. From inside, they heard the murmur of Willy talking to Rebecca.
“Wow, you two must have had something goin for these letters. You know, maybe I should just keep em, and send ‘em to all your clients... I’m certain they’d love to know all about their lady businesswomen. Especially all this bad poetry that you kept trying to write him...” Baloo began to swell up, but McGrady motioned him back. The Badger pulled out his pistol, and pointed at the door.
“Kick it in, Baloo,” He whispered. Baloo did more then that, he charged the door hitting it full on. The rotted wood exploded out from the door frame as a skinny fox looked up in disbelief, seeing the large, very angry bear charging down on him. He dropped the phone, turning to run as he made a grab for the album. Baloo caught him before he had managed to do more then take one step and the large bear threw him into the wall, where he ricocheted off of it and fell onto the floor, stunned. He looked up just in time to see the large barrel of McGrady’s .44 revolver pointed right between his eyes.
“Willy, Willy, Willy.... you never do learn, do you.”
“You!? But you retired!?”
“Well, seeing as how you were out... I decided that it was my Christian duty to make you feel right at home, before I send you back to your rightful home.” McGrady said, stepping back and gesturing at Willy to get up. The fox turned to Baloo, brushing his long greasy black hair out of his face.
“So I guess you’re the ladies new bedwarmer... You should read that album, learn what really makes the silly lady happy. I’ve never heard anything so sappy in all my life and I’m going to enjoy telling it to a court room full of reporters. I bet she’ll leave town forev-Glck!!” The last came out in a strangled gasp as Baloo effortlessly gripped the fox around the throat in one beefy hand, then lifted him straight off the ground.
“That would be very bad.” Baloo calmly said, “It would be bad for you, because I would kill you. I will kill you, if you say anything, to anyone about what you read in that album.” McGrady stood calmly by, making no move. Baloo relaxed his hand a little, just enough to let some air into Willy’s bruised throat. “Do you understand?”
“Yes... yes!! Let me go, I’ll do what you say!!” Baloo dropped him onto the ground, where Willy lay, wheezing and gasping. Turning, the bear went to the album, it’s cover stained where bear and food had lain on top of it. Flipping through it, the bear saw that it was mostly complete, except for three leaves. Turning back to Willy, he asked, in that same calm voice.
“Where is the last page you cut out?” Willy looked up, real fear on his face.
“It was just a stupid flower, and I burned it.. figured maybe it was good to smoke.” He scrabbled back as the Bear advanced on him. McGrady stepped up beside Baloo.
“I know you want to, son, but beating him isn’t going to bring that back... Besides, he’s going back to jail, and you won’t be able to do much more then that to him.” McGrady handcuffed the thoroughly cowed fox, and then picked up the phone. He called the police, letting them know where to come to get Willy, then handed the phone to Baloo. The gray bear called Higher For Hire.
“Hello?” Rebecca answered. “Who is this?”
“It’s Baloo, Beckers. We got it back.” In the office, Becky swayed, almost falling for a moment.
“Oh God... oh thank God.... Baloo, thank you,” She said in a choked voice. “When will you be back.”
“I’ll have to help Mr. McGrady down at the police station, and I’ll drop by in the morning.”
“O.K.... Thanks Baloo.” Becky hung up, and Baloo turned to McGrady.
“There’s nothing you need to do here, Baloo.” The bear looked back at McGrady.
“I know that, but,” He said, gesturing at the cover of the album. “I’ve gotta get the cover replaced, and find a place that will press a flower, and get Wildcat up.... Can I get those two pages back from the cops.”
“Don’t see why not... Willy’s going up whatever happens in this case, but Baloo, they were pretty badly damaged.”
“You haven’t seen what Wildcat can do.”
The next morning, Baloo and McGrady came into Higher For Hire, as Rebecca was cleaning up the room. She walked up to Baloo, fear on her face.
“Baloo... the album?” Baloo pulled it out from behind his back and handed it to her. Becky opened it up, flipping through the pages until she came to a page with a pressed flower. Baloo looked uncomfortable.
“Ah... Beckers? The guy got rid of the flower. I’m sorry.” Rebecca looked up at him, her face beginning to sag. Baloo pulled out another package, much smaller then the album. “But, Wildcat managed to clean up those two papers Willy put in the garbage.”
“Yeah,” Wildcat chimed in, “I just used the same stuff I use to take Baloo guacamole stains off of the Seaduck’s upholstery, and off it came!” Rebecca smiled at Wildcat.
“Uhhh, Becky?” Baloo said. Rebecca looked up at him. “I don’t know much about why you had that flower in the book, but....” He paused, “I went down to the florist and had another one done. I know that it’s not the same, but I thought that maybe you could put it in... to remind you of the other one, y’know.” Rebecca said nothing, simply stared at Baloo. The bear started to get uncomfortable under Becky’s gaze. “If.. you don’t want it, well then-oof!” He said as Rebecca leaped up and gave him a fierce hug, burying her face in his shoulder.
“I do want it, Baloo, and thank you... more then I can ever say.” She pulled back, crying a little. “Thanks for what you’ve done, but I’m not going to let you pay for this by yourself. Mr. McGrady, how much are you charging for this?” She asked.
“Nothing.” McGrady replied. “You see, I’ve made several cops look awfully good out of this, and that’s going to make my business a lot easier. That’s all the payment I need.” Becky looked uncertain.
“Then will you at least have dinner with us? To thank you for this?”
“Being a man who cooks his own food.... yes! It’ll be nice to see something identifiable on my plate for once.” Baloo laughed at that. Rebecca took the pages, old and new, and gently placed them in the album. Then, still holding onto the album, she went to get the kids.
“You didn’t have to do it for free.” Baloo said to McGrady.
“Well, I said the truth... and besides, you’re good people, and you deserve a break... so consider it a favor.”
“Well if you ever need to get somewhere, My plane’s always ready.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” McGrady grinned, “If you ever want to give the private detective biz a whirl, give me a call.” Baloo laughed and shook his hand. Then, they left, heading out to where Rebecca and the kids waited.
Later that night, back at the apartment, cleaned up, with no sign of its violation, Rebecca came into Molly’s room. The small bearess was already tucked into her bed, stuffed animals sharing the space with her.
Rebecca sat down next to the bed, album under her arm. Molly looked up at her mother. Rebecca gently brushed the golden cubs hair back with her hand, causing Molly to giggle.
“Are you going to read me a story, Mommy?” The child asked. Rebecca looked down and opened the album.
“Sweetie, remember the stories I told you about Daddy?” Molly nodded solemnly. Rebecca took one of the cubs small hands in hers. “Well, Daddy told me stories, when he went places that I couldn’t go, so I wouldn’t feel lonely. We also took pictures, and wrote letters to each other, and I would like to read some of them to you.” Molly sat up straight in bed, as Rebecca moved in closer so she could see the pictures in the album, and began to read.
“I’m writing this on the last leg of the train trip home to you. Tomorrow, when I arrive, we will be together, until our child is born, and after that, there is so much we will do...”