Written by: Dan Green and Kristof
Author's Note: Dan - As always, thanks to the TaleSpin team, especially Jymn Magon. Thanks also to all my usual buddies, especially Alyson who's fics inspired me several times in my contribution to this story, and Elysabeth who was helpful with my writer's block! Obviously, thanks most of all to Kristof - a great friend, great collaborator and great fanifc writer. It wasn't always easy trying to deal with a nine-hour time difference, but we worked together like a charm and I'm grateful to have had the chance to do this!
This fic exists in a sort of netherworld that isn't quite Kristof's fic universe, not quite mine, and not quite the actual TaleSpin mythos either. For the proposes of the story, pretend that "Jolly Molly Christmas" has never happened. (Lord knows I wish I could!) This story is set on the first Christmas after Kit's arrival in Cape Suzette. I've wanted to do a real TS Christmas story ever since the show aired - one that contained the elements of emotion and drama that I thought TaleSpin deserved in it's Holiday story. Kristof felt the same way and a partnership was born. Sorry - couldn't figure out a way to work Karnage in a bathrobe into the story...
I make no claims as to originality - many thanks to a well-known 19th Century writer (No, not Dickens!) and "The Honeymooners" for the inspiration for this fic. I hope you all have a happy and healthy holiday season and I'll see you on the left coast in July!
Auhtor'sa Note: Kristof - As most fans know, this is the first co-op fic in TS fanfic history. Dan and me have worked hard to make this an acceptable blend between Danfic and Kitfic.
Some elements of our universes had to go for this purpose. Although I'm not keen on legal stuff, fact remains both writers now hold copyright on the new characters and locations used in this story. Just enjoy this story as much as we enjoyed writing it. Rest assured this will not be our last co-op. The horror of 'Jolly Molly Christmas' brought us together and together we shall stay =) Special thanks from my part go out to David Kimble and Susie Walton, two of my greatest fans and (unofficial) proofreaders. This story is divided in scenes we split between the two of us... feel free to guess who wrote what =) And to all fans: Merry Christmas
T'was the night before Christmas, and all through the Cape,
Not a creature was scheming, not even an ape (goon)
The stockings were hung by a seaplane with care,
By an overstuffed, lazy but jovial bear
The pirates were nestled quite smug in their ship
Secure that they'd given the coppers the slip
Shere Khan in his tower, the picture of health
Quite pleased with his power, and sure of his wealth
When out from the docks there arose such a clatter
Becky sprang to the door to see what was the matter
"Wildcat!" she yelled, as her heart skipped a beat
The mechanic's poor face was as white as a sheet
"Sorry Man!" the mechanic did shout, as he sprang up on his toes.
"The aileron's loose, and it popped right out and hit me in the nose!"
With a sorrowful laugh, a smile, and a knowing shake of the head
The daring young businesswoman shucked her work and headed home to bed
Along in the night, at Higher for Hire, a boy had stayed up late
Puzzling himself, as he so often did, on the strangeness of his fate
That he should be all alone, no place to call home, for lo those many years
When his attention shifted, as his thoughts they had drifted, by a scratch upon his ears.
"Hey L'il Britches!" his Papa Bear laughed, a smile deep in his eyes.
"You'd best go to bed!" the big grey bear said, "Tomorrow's yer big surprise!"
"The past is the past, and bad stuff don't last, when Baloo's on the job!"
And ao it was true, a fine Dad was Baloo, although a bit of a slob.
Kit Cloudkicker smiled, not enough of a child, too grown up was that boy
To believe in the myth, of Santa and his elves, and to pine in his heart for a toy
His desires were higher, but he knew in his heart, he was safe in the big bear's arms
For his dreams weren't of gold, or jewels of old, but of a life of simple charms
Of Becky and Molly, and even old Wildcat, did the lad in his soul deeply yearn
For he'd been all alone, for so long a time, surely now t'was his turn?
But most of all, for Baloo did he wish, to be friends for life without care
And he knew in his heart, on this Yuletide eve, he'd always have his Papa Bear
And so they embraced, together as ever, the best of friends for life
Secure they in the knowledge, together they could face pain and strife
Ne'er again to be alone, bear and cub had forged a new start
"Merry Christmas Kid! You'll always be home in my heart!"
Cape Suzette was a festive city, much of the time. It's skyline was a panorama of gaily colored buildings of all shapes and sizes - a show of wealth, yes, but also a show of passion, spirit and even whimsy. Cape Suzette was located in one of the most desirable and beautiful corners of the globe, and the forces than ran the show loved to share with the world that they were not merely grey businessmen, but bold, daring and individual, if not modest.
The natural landscape that provided the backdrop for their city was just as dramatic - more so, even. The city fronted a large, blue harbor, which was guarded by a series of massive cliffs. Behind the city, mountains reached for the sky, and the people of Cape Suzette had built their houses on the very shoulders of these mountains. Even if it wasn't a picture of a traditional Christmas setting, the scent of celebration was in the air.
A little building sat at the outskirts of the city, it's crow's nest reaching jauntily for the heavens. Higher for Hire sat on the very lip of the harbor, a signal buoy ringing a few yards offshore. A large green wreath, festooned with a red ribbon, had been hung on the door, and a string of lights played along the roof of the structure.
Inside, a little girl and an attractive woman in her mid 30's shared the space that doubled as an office and a home for the flight crew of Higher for Hire. That crew was away at the moment, engaged in one of an endless string of cargo deliveries. The girl, a six year-old yellow bearcub, sat at the large table, happily coloring in a book of "Danger Woman" adventures. Her mother, a light brown bearess, was engaged in an animated telephone conversation.
"Yes, I understand, Mr. O' Beara." Rebecca Cunningham said calmly into the phone. " I know, time's are tough right now." She sat, listening to the voice at the other end of the line. A frown creased her face. "_All_ of them? Mr. O'Beara, surely you don't have to cancel all of your deliveries... No, no that's quite all right. Yes, I understand. Merry Christmas to you too. Good-bye."
Rebecca hung up the phone. "That's three clients this month, oh my..." she muttered. "And with Christmas coming up, too. We may have to tighten our belts a little..."
"Mommy, aren't we gonna have Christmas?" Molly asked, fear in her voice.
Rebecca laughed. "Of course we will, Sweetie! Business is just a little slow, that's all. Nothing to be concerned about. We have plenty for Christmas, we'll just have to spend a little less on gifts than I planned. But the important thing is that we're all together, right Molly?"
"The important thing is that I get my new Danger Woman Spy Locator Watch!" Molly grinned.
"Molly!" her mother admonished as the Sea Duck noisily splashed in for a landing outside. "Haven't I taught you better than that? Christmas is about giving, remember?"
"Sorry Mom." the cub mumbled, looking longingly at the watch she was coloring on Danger Woman's wrist.
"Now Molly, don't tell Baloo and Kit what Mommy was talking about OK? No need to get them worried about nothing."
"OK Mommy." the cub answered as a large grey bear and a thirteen year-old brown bearcub, small for his age, walked into the building. Molly immediately leapt up from the table and ran over to the big bear. "Baloo! Kit!" she yelled gleefully, jumping into the pilot's arms.
"Hiya Short Stuff!" Baloo laughed. Y'better watch out or you'll get a speedin' ticket!"
"Hey Miz Cunningham!" Kit grinned, walking over to the desk. He'd made a conscious effort to take more interest in the business lately. "What's the matter? You look worried."
"I'm fine Kit." she smiled at the boy. "Just had a long day, that's all. You seem excited - what's up?"
Baloo sat down on the easy chair, Molly on his lap. "Aw, we're goin' down to the Blue Bear ta see some trumpet hotshot tonight, Kit's been bouncin' off the cockpit about it all day!" he chuckled.
"Dexter Bearsfield." Kit said, frowning at his Papa Bear. "I tol' ya like six times!"
"Sounds fun!" Rebecca grinned.
"It'll be great!" Kit smiled. "We're goin' to the Runway Cafe for dinner first an' everything. Um... I'm gonna go the Suzette Brass Quartet next week though." he said sheepishly, as ever wanting to impress his boss and knowing Rebecca's tastes in music.
"Snooty stuff!" Baloo grumbled, as Molly played with his cap.
That's fine Kit!" Rebecca laughed fondly. "Just as long as you like the music. If you'll excuse me, it's about time for this young lady and I to be on our way. We have a little clothes shopping to do. Come on young lady."
"Awww..." Molly grumbled, hopping off Baloo's lap and gathering her crayons. "I hate clothes shoppin'!"
"Me too Pigtails!" Baloo laughed.
"Really, Baloo? It's not like we could tell!" Rebecca said sarcastically. "Come on Molly. You boys have fun tonight." Yellow cub in tow, she left Higher for Hire to it's permanent residents and headed out into the dusk.
Soft and rhythmic sounds drifted out of the open door and out into the surrounding streets. This part of the city was a far cry from the busy dockside where merchants -and businessmen to a lesser extent- ruled the scenery. Out here, the stress seemed to melt away... start its own life, transform into relaxation and a brilliant composition drifting out of an overused, dented but still shining and proud golden trumpet.
This oasis of peace and joy was known as The Blue Bear to a very select crowd of Jazz-connoisseurs. It was the home to jazz players, artists looking for inspiration, poets, and one of the biggest names in the business - Dexter Bearsfield.
This jazz and blues player was regarded as one of the very best in Usland... a fame he detested but wore with a certain pride too. He had the ability to attract masses to festivals and concert halls, but his roots lay here in The Blue Bear - it was in this very club that he was discovered. But there was another reason why he preferred this small club over a richly decorated concert hall - he could play what he wanted, kick back and know for sure the fans would like it.
Kit stared in astonishment. Dinner in the Runway Cafe had taken ages... or so it seemed. For the very first time, the approaching planes and the owner's collection of war memorabilia couldn't interest him. All he wanted was to get here and get a look, even a glimpse, at the master of the art. And now that he was sitting there at a table near the stage with Baloo by his side, he hoped this night would never end.
The final tones of "Moonshine" resounded in the densely crowded club and the fans stood up to give their idol a standing ovation. The jazz sounds were replaced by a deafening clapping of hands, broken at times by adoring whistles. All the performer could do was bow and wait for his public to calm down. With a twinkle in his eyes the bear looked around the room and started a new piece solely for the pleasure of his fans. His performance should have been over half an hour ago, but they kept asking for encores - and who was he to refuse? Dexter was able to surprise everyone with a new blues composition.
"Aww... when's he gonna stop?" the grey bear at the first table complained, visibly wanting to be somewhere else. As if hearing him, Dexter got to his knees and aimed his trumpet directly at Baloo's ears, prompting a laugh from the cub next to him. Their eyes met for a second and Bearsfield gave him a sympathetic wink before getting up again and resuming his play.
"Wow... He actually looked at me!"
"Yeah, yeah" Baloo replied while putting his hands over his ears to block out the high pitch of the trumpet "What's so great about this guy anyway?"
Kit gave his good friend a puzzled stare. "You don't like his music?"
"Sorry Li'l Britches, but I wasn't aware this was music"
"This is great music Baloo... I'd give anything to learn how to play like him."
"Do somethin' your pal over there never did - go to school. And pay attention in music class so ya don't turn out like him."
"Yeah, I wish. Budget cutbacks next year - the music program is scrapped from the schedule. I'm never gonna learn how to play at this rate."
Even though he hated this music, even though it made him go crazy, Baloo _knew_ how important it was to Kit. And the kid had just given him an idea...
With a final breath, Dexter blew out the last note and lowered his trumpet to catch his breath.
Again, the crowd had gotten to it's feet, rewarding him for the encore and demanding another. He took another look around the room, seeing Baloo sitting at the table looking bored to death. The applause stilled and Dexter kept staring at the grey bear. "Hey... Whatup? Dontcha like my blues? Or are ya bein' blue right now?"
Complete silence filled the club as Baloo's face turned red and Kit felt like hiding under the table. The grey bear tried to think fast and come up with a good explanation for his behavior but came up empty and resorted to the usual 'uhm's' and 'ehhmm's'. Dexter smiled - it was the first time someone couldn't appreciate his music and he felt a sense of wholeness... Now he had lived everything.
"Aw, don't matter anymore - this is a jazz club and I'm supposta sharpen yer interest in music... first time I failed." He turned around to the entire crowd "Bad news everyone: the big shots uptown got me booked fer another tour... this will be my very last 'blowout' fer two months, so enjoy!" He brought the trumpet to his mouth again for "Moonlight." For the last time for two months, the sounds of Dexter's trumpet filled the atmosphere in the club, filling the crowd's head with the mood, the feeling and the heart of jazz...
The lilting sound of the foghorn out on Cape Suzette harbor wafted in through the open window at Higher for Hire, where Kit and Baloo sat leisurely drinking coffee at the large dining table. It was a sound that Kit always found oddly soothing, almost... musical, in it's way. It was joined on this foggy evening by the sound of Wildcat hammering away at one of the Sea Duck's engines by lamplight, another one of Kit's favorite sounds. The sound of Higher for Hire. The sound of home.
"Still think this coffee thing is a bad habit, L'il Britches." Baloo grumbled softly, even as he took a long, slow sip of his java. "Boy yer age oughtta be drinkin' soda, or milk. Yer too danged adult sometimes."
It was a complaint Kit had heard before, and he didn't mind - he enjoyed Baloo's efforts to be a responsible, protective parent - especially since he normally got his own way in the end. "Aw, Papa Bear - no school tomorrow, what's it matter? It's not like I gotta go to bed in five minutes."
"Mmm." Baloo mumbled, the way he always did when he was giving in and didn't want to admit it.
"Boy Baloo - I can't believe you didn't like that jazz concert last night! Dexter Bearsfield is the best! He-"
Baloo cut the cub off with a chuckle. "Weren't so bad, Kid - least it's better than that stuffed shirt music o' Becky's. But I just don't get this slow jazz stuff today - in my time, we had real swingin' jazz - stuff you could dance to! 'I Got Them Flat Broke Sticky-"
" 'Shoes No Banana Boogie Woogie Blues'!" Kit finished with a grin. "I know!"
The pilot looked a little hurt. "Well, we _did_, L'il Britches! Man, you kin really cut a rug to that tune! I thought you liked it..."
"I do!" the boy said hastily, squeezing Baloo's hand. "It's great! It's just that... I dunno. I think I'm off dancin' for a while."
Baloo laughed. "Kiddo, you just ain't never been taught right! Mambos are OK, but Boogie-Woogie dancin' is the way ta go. Can't beat it with a stick! Mebbee I'll teach ya someday."
"Sure." Kit smiled, more than content merely to be sharing his evening with Baloo.
The big grey bear scratched his chin. "Sure Kit, why not? I'll teach ya right now! Not like we got anythin' else ta do! Soon as you get out there, feel that rhythm, you'll get the swing of it!"
Kit was suddenly nervous, his extremely sensitive embarrassment monitor sensing danger. "Uh-"
But the pilot was not to be denied. He raced up the stairs and reappeared a moment later carrying the gramophone and a record. "Here we go Kiddo!" he grinned , setting the record player down on a chair. He slipped the vinyl disc on the rack, and slid the needle into place. In a moment, the jaunty strains of "I Got Them Flat Broke Sticky Shoes No Banana Boogie-Woogie Blues" began to fill the air. The big grey bear began snapping his fingers, as if involuntarily. "Man, what a beat!" he grinned.
"Papa Bear, I tol' ya I liked this song, it's OK..."
The pilot was beginning to move his body now, swinging his feet in ever growing arcs across the floor. "Just watch me L'il Britches. Watch me and do what I do."
Kit wasn't sure that would be physically possible. To him, the big bear looked as if he was being attacked by a swarm of hornets. "Baloo, I - I can't do that!" he chuckled. "And even if I could-"
The big bear was now varying his repertoire with a series of slide steps and arm swings. "Kiddo, ya gotta... _feel_ the music! It's in yer blood, Kit! Just close yer eyes, let that beat get inside ya - flow with it."
Kit sighed. Baloo wanted so much to share his love of this with Kit - the cub couldn't help but be a little moved. He closed his eyes and tried to feel the rhythm of the music. To his surprise, his feet started to move a little, almost involuntarily. He balanced on his toes and slid across the floor. It felt good...
"There ya go!" Baloo laughed, still gyrating wildly himself as he watched the boy. "Now snap yer fingers to the beat, L'il Britches!"
Kit complied, and felt his body moving in time with the music. Hard to believe, but this was actually beginning to feel good. "Hey - it's fun!" he giggled, swinging his arms. He kept his eyes closed, fearful that if he actually saw himself the spell.would be broken.
Baloo laughed uproariously, swinging his way across the room. "That's mah boy!" he grinned.
Kit kept moving, eyes closed, feeling the music guiding his feet. A rush of exhilaration came over him, and he slid into a spin. With a start, he felt his body collide with something solid, and opened his eyes to a crash.
"Oh no!" he gasped, as the chair tipped over, sending the gramophone and it's contents spilling to the ground. There was a second crash, and mechanical innards sprang into the air and fell to the floor, followed by silence. Kit stared down at the mess, hands over his mouth. "Baloo - I'm sorry!"
The pilot rushed over and rooted down among the remains of the gramophone. He stood, holding his record. "Dang - least my record's OK! Last copy in the world... Coulda been worse, Britches!"
Kit banged his fist on the table. "Darn it! I'm a menace Baloo - no more dancin'! Somethin' bad always happens-"
The big bear chuckled ruefully. "Well, Kid - don't beat yerself up. Like I said, coulda been worse..."
"Baloo, I'm sorry! I broke your gramophone, I'm so clumsy..." the boy sighed, head in hands, falling into the easy chair.
Baloo sat on the arm of the chair and put his hand around the cub's shoulder. "Don't sweat it Kid. Just a machine, that's all. The important thing is my record's OK - that's unique! Don't feel bad, L'il Britches!"
"But Baloo - how can you listen to it, without a record player? I'm such an idiot-"
The pilot chuckled. "Kiddo, _I_ broke it the last time! It's OK. Say Kit, I ever tell ya why this record's so important to me?"
The boy looked up. "You said you got yer taste in music from your Dad..."
The pilot grinned. "Scoot over." he said, squeezing into the big chair next to Kit. "So I did, Pardner. But it's a little more'n that, Kit. Me an' my Daddy - well, we didn't have much in common, L'il Britches. We weren't - well..."
"I understand." Kit smiled sympathetically.
Baloo squeezed the boy a little tighter. "Well anyways, this tune is like - it's the one thing he gave me, that we shared. So it's real important to me, L'il Britches. I wanna share it with you, too, even though it's kinda silly-"
"It's not silly!" Kit protested.
"Whatever." the pilot smiled ruefully. "Anyways, you an' me, we got a lot more'n that to share, Kiddo. We ain't like me an' my Daddy, we don't need no dumb ol' record, we got the world, you an' me." Baloo smiled and tousled Kit's hair fondly.
"I know." Kit sighed, snuggling closer to the big bear. "But I just wish I wasn't so clumsy! Now you can't listen to yer song..."
"Ain't important, Pardner." Baloo said ruefully. "It's just a gramophone, ain't no big deal." Kit glanced over at the rubble on the floor sadly. At least the record was OK... Still, what a lousy way to start Christmas vacation!
Cape Suzette was indeed a festive city this time of year. Worries were forgotten, bonds were made and the weather cooled a little to allow long walks and the accompanying emotional talks. Reasons enough to get in the spirit of Christmas, but this year the bearess at the desk had enough reasons not to.
Three of her biggest customers had cancelled their deliveries and it had its impact on the finances of the small company. Rebecca had gone over the bills and profits seven times and every time her calculations confirmed her fears - money would be tighter this year.
"Guess I'll have to shop lighter this Christmas." she murmured.
"Why Mommy?" Molly asked innocently. No matter how softly Rebecca said something, she always managed to overhear.
"Nothing to worry your pretty head about, Sweetie." She gave her daughter a hug and put her on her lap. As if to confirm she was really Rebecca's daughter, Molly looked at the bills.
"Why is this marked in red Mom? and this, AND this?" she said while pointing to Rebecca's calculations.
"Uhhmm... nothing really Honey" -Why is she so sharp for her age?- Rebecca thought while trying to distract Molly by tickling her nose. As the cub giggled and closed her eyes, Rebecca quickly put the books away -no need to concern her. "Say Molly, don't you think we've been spending too much on Christmas? After all, it's about happiness, not gifts. What do you like best about Christmas, Sweetie?"
Molly looked at her with an innocent yet understanding look. She had long ago figured out when an adult was trying to work towards something bad. She decided to play along. "I like being together in one place for so long, and the talk, and the fun."
"Not your Danger Woman Spy Locator Watch?"
"It's a nice thing, but I like my family better."
"Oh, come here, Honey!" Rebecca gave her daughter a long, warm hug. There would simply not be enough money this year to give everyone what they wanted... and she was glad her own daughter took it like that. First, she had to choose between the bargain clothes and now she had to give up her favorite toy... all part of the spirit of Christmas?
Kit walked through Flampert's Department Store, hands in pockets, felling more than a little dejected. He hadn't been surprised when Rebecca had told him that there wasn't going to be a bonus this year - despite her efforts to hide it, he'd known something was up. He could read her moods almost as well as she could his, and besides he'd sneaked a peek at the books every once in a while. He knew that if it were possible Becky would've given Baloo and he a bonus - things must be pretty tight.
Still, the knowledge was little comfort when it came to his Christmas shopping. His pockets felt distressingly light, especially considering what he knew in his heart he wanted to get Baloo for Christmas. He walked past the watch department, where a strikingly beautiful but nearly bald young woman was looking at chains. He passed the beauty salon, where a handsome young man was carefully appraising tortoise-shell combs. With a sigh, he headed for the electronics department.
"Help you, Son?" a weasel in a cheap suit asked ingratiatingly. Normally he wouldn't even bother with a little kid dressed like that - only the rich kids came in ready to spend. Still, it was a slow day...
"Uh - yeah." the cub replied. "I, um, need to buy a gramophone. What do you recommend?"
The weasel smiled toothily. "Kid, you come to the right place!" he chuckled, draping an arm over the boy's shoulder and leading him to a display case. "This R.A.C.-2500 Luxor model is the finest home record system on the market, bar none! Diamond needle, triple damping noise control, patented Victrophonic speaker. She's the best, Sonny!"
"Wow." Kit whispered, impressed. "Looks neat! Um - how much?"
"Only a very reasonable $109.98! And worth every penny and more, too-"
"$109.98?" Kit squeaked. It was even worse then he'd feared. "Jeepers, I can't afford -- um, that is..." he stammered, as the salesweasel began to show signs of losing interest. "I mean, that's great but, I was wondering what you had that was, well, cheap."
"Jones 100 Gramomatic, $49.95." the weasel yawned, casually pointing across the floor at a clunky looking player on a dusty shelf.
Kit took a few steps over and looked at the gramophone for a moment. It looked cheap - and he couldn't even afford this one! "Gee Mister - I really wanna get a good one, it's for Papa - er, my best friend, an' I accidentally broke his old one. Isn't there any other - well-"
The weasel looked the boy over appraisingly, and appeared to take pity on him. "What the heck, slow day anyways." he muttered. "Tell ya what Kid - I got an R.A.C.-1500, last year's model. It's a nice set, real quality, but cheap cause it's last year's, yaknow? It's only sixty bucks, but I only got one left and when it's gone, we ain't gettin' no more. Yours if ya want it."
"Sixty?" Kit said thoughtfully. "I don't exactly have it on me..."
"Kid, I'm doin' you a favor here-"
"I know!" the cub said hastily. There was no other way... "Can you please hold it for me, just for an hour or two? I can get the money, I promise! It's real important, an' I'd really be grateful... Please?"
The salesweasel sighed. "All right Kid, but if I don't see ya back here by three it's gone, ya hear me?"
"Thanks Mister!" Kit grinned, dashing for the door. "My name's Cloudkicker. I'll be back!"
"Yer gettin' soft, Al." the weasel muttered to himself, smiling ruefully.
Kit dashed through the streets of Cape Suzette towards Higher for Hire, trying not to think for too long about what he planned to do. Certainly, he could never tell Baloo or Becky, that was for sure! It would be rough, but it was the right thing, he knew it. He had to make right by Baloo, for what he'd done. And the big bear would be so happy! Still...
After a few moments he stood outside the building, breathing heavily from his run. The Sea Duck was here... He cracked the door and peered inside - no sign of Becky or Baloo - good! He darted up the stairs and into his bedroom. The case stood on the floor, next to his bed - just as it had for the last three months.
The boy sat on the bed for a moment and opened the case, gazing fondly at the contents. There were a lot of good memories there... but that was the past. He'd have no use for it soon enough anyways. He'd broken Baloo's gramophone and he had to take the responsibility. There was no other way, and this was a time for giving anyways...
Sighing sadly, he glanced at his watch. He still had time to make the Pawn Shop, and then across town and back to Flampert's. He peeked downstairs and, seeing no one there, darted down the stairs and out the door, case under his arm.
"So you see Baloo..." Rebecca was saying, as she walked arm in arm with the pilot around the corner of the Higher for Higher building. She frowned and squinted. "Was that Kit?" she asked, spying a small figure running along the waterfront towards town.
Baloo followed her glance. "Search me Beckers. Kid said he had some errands today. So anyways, you were sayin'-"
"Yes." the woman frowned. "I'm truly sorry Baloo, but there's just no way I'll be able to pay Kit and yourself a bonus this year. We're a small business, and it doesn't take much to push us from a good month to a bad one. If there was-"
Baloo scowled. "That ain't right, Beckers! Me an' Kit work awful hard-"
She grabbed the pilot by the arm and looked at him intently. "Baloo, you know... know how much you boys mean to me. If there was any possible way, I'd gladly give you a bonus. But we've lost three of out biggest accounts just these last two weeks, and I was counting on that money! It's not as if we're going under, but there's really just going to be enough for your regular salary, plus expenses, and a little left to buy gifts and such. Try to understand..."
The pilot met her glance and sighed. "I know Beckers. I give ya a hard time sometimes, but I know you'd do it if ya could."
"Of course, you boys will still come to my place Christmas morning-"
"Naw Becky - we did Thanksgivin' at yer place. Kit an' I kinda wanted you and Molly ta come over here for Christmas." the bear smiled.
"Naw, this is Kit and my - well, our first real Christmas, y'know? An' we wanted ta have it here, just... just 'cause we want to, I guess. So you'll come?"
Rebecca shrugged. "Of course Baloo, if you boys want, we'll be happy to spend Christmas here..."
"Thanks Beckers." the pilot grinned. He sighed. "Well, ain't no point holdin' off any more, I guess." he said, walking off towards town."
Where are you going?"
"To shop fer L'il Britches' present!" he grinned over his shoulder. "See ya later!" This bonus business was a setback, no doubt about it. But he knew exactly what the boy wanted - how much could something like that cost? He'd just have to lay off the Krakatoa specials for a couple of weeks, that's all.
Baloo slowly walked towards town, the occasional offices and houses of the docks giving way to the increasingly large shops and offices of the business district. It wasn't a part of town that Baloo enjoyed, particularly - too many suits and ties for his blood. Within a few moments, he had crossed over the tracks and into the district known as River West.
River West was scarcely populated by day, but at night it came alive with the sound of music and the smells of coffee and exotic foods. It was where Cape Suzette came to play after dark, and Baloo knew exactly where he was headed. Within another moment he stood in front of a place he hadn't expected to return to for a long time - The Blue Bear.
"S'cuse me." he coughed, walking into the smoky club, dark inside even as the sun shone brightly out. "Is Dexter Bearsfield here? I kinda need to talk to him."
"Third door on the left." the bored waitress pointed, not looking up from her magazine.
"Uh - thanks." the big bear answered. He walked down a dark hallway, passing two doors marked "Men" and "Women", and stopped at the third, which was unmarked. He knocked tentatively.
"C'mon in." a gravelly voice called from the other side of the portal.
Baloo slipped open the door and stepped inside the dimly lit room. A desk stood in one corner, covered in papers and sheet music. The walls were lined with grainy photos of jazz performers in various poses of their art. At the desk sat a grizzled looking black bear of perhaps sixty, who grasped a trumpet in one hand and a pencil in the other. Dexter Bearsfield. "Uh, Hi, you won't remember me but-"
"It's you!" the black bear laughed hoarsely. "The cat that didn't dig my act! What, you wanna heckle me in my office now?"
Baloo's face turned bright red. "Um - yeah, I'm really sorry about that Mr. Bearsfield. I, uh, I had too much cold medicine in my system that night..."
"What you want, Man? I'm a busy bear." the trumpeter asked, shaking his head.
Baloo reflexively yanked his cap off of his head and absently twisted it in his hands. "I was kinda hopin' I could buy some lessons from ya-"
"You?!" the bear laughed. "Man, you ain't got no blues in yer soul, I kin see dat a mile away! What the world-"
"Not for me!" Baloo said hastily. "It's uh - it's fer my boy, he was here with me the other night-"
The musician allowed a small, fond smile to cross his lips. "Yeah, I remember. Dat kid knows da blues, man, I could tell. He was diggin' the vibe I was layin' down, you know what I'm sayin'?"
"Uh - yeah." the pilot lied. "Anyways, Kit - that's my boy's name - he's a trumpeter too, Mr. Bearsfield-"
"Sorry, Dex. Anyways, he's a trumpeter too Dex - least he's tryin' ta be. He really loves yer music, too. An' they're cuttin' off the music program in his school. So I was hopin' maybe you could give him some lessons, he'd really-"
"Sorry, Man." the black bear replied. "I got dat dumb tour da suits wants me to go out on, an' dere's plenty guys wants lessons from ol' Dex. Sorry about dat school thing man-"
"Wait!" Baloo interrupted, not wanting his prefect gift to slip away that easily. "Mr. - Dex - Kit's had it rough... He's been an orphan 'is whole life, an' this is his first real family Christmas, y'know? I want it to be real special..."
The musician sighed. "Like I said man, that little dude knows the blues, y'know? A blues man kin always tell." He looked Baloo over thoughtfully. "I tell ya what, Fat Man - ol' Dex don't really wanna go on this tour, know what I'm sayin'? I'd rather stay home, man, do my gigs here every week. But it's gotta be worth my while, y'know? An' I don't give no lesson's unless I got the time ta take the student all the way through to the promised land, you dig? I tell you what - I give the little guy twenty lessons, a hundred bucks, up front."
"A h-hundred?" Baloo stammered. A hundred bucks for trumpet lessons? How could he possibly afford that? "Jeez, Dex, that's a little more than I can swing..."
"Sorry Dude." the black bear said sadly. "Like I said, if I'm gonna blow this tour it's gotta be worth my while. An' Dex has gotta know today."
Baloo twisted his cap, desperately trying to think of something to change the trumpeter's mind. How could be come up with a hundred bucks that fast? It was impossible. The last time he'd needed a hundred bucks, he'd - the last time...
"Hey! Yer playin' my song!"
"Surprise! That's what I needed the hundred bucks for!"
"Aw, Kid! You..."
Baloo grinned at the memory. That kid of his was really special... That was what was important, this time of year - not some old memory that was past it's time. He was lucky to have Kit. "Dex, just hold yer horses fer a little while! Ol' Baloo's gonna be right back with that hundred smackers!" he chuckled, turning to leave.
"Hey Fat Man!" the musician called as Baloo was leaving. The pilot turned to him expectantly. "What's yer vibe, Man? What you groove to?"
"I Got Them Flat Broke Sticky Shoes No Banana Boogie Woogie Blues!" Baloo smiled.
"No kiddin'?" Dex laughed. "Fats Wallaby? I grooved ta him back in the teens, man! Guess you ain't so bad, Fat Man!"
"It's just a tune, though, Dex." Baloo smiled, a little sadly. "Kit's what I care about. See ya in a while!" The bear turned and set off for Higher for Higher at a jog.
All was quiet around the office at Higher for Hire. The only sound today was the ring of the harbor buoy outside, and the scratching of Rebecca’s pen. The phone had been quiet, Molly had hardly spoken or made a sound and nobody had rang the doorbell or knocked on the door. The silence was unusual…
Rebecca sighed and looked at her watch… 10.25. Baloo was making a solo delivery today and normally at this time she would be cheered up (or at least amused) by Kit’s attempts at Chowkayvski’s masterpieces. Finding this silence more than a bit peculiar, she put down her pen, took a look at the napping Molly and started up the stairs.
“Hey…out of breath?” she joked, not wanting to confront the boy immediately and embarrass him.
Kit was lying on his bed, stretched out with one arm behind his head and holding the sleeve of Chowkayvski’s record with the other. “Just don’t feel like playing today.”
“You know…” she gently sat down on Kit’s bed. “ I didn’t heard you play yesterday afternoon either.”
Kit sat up, put down the record sleeve and looked at the floor. He couldn’t _possibly_ admit what he'd done with his trumpet. His mind raced to come up with another answer for his musical silence and came up with only one.
“I ehmm…I don’t quite have it anymore…” his voice was silent, almost a whisper. Rebecca looked at him without understanding what he was saying… Kit read her thoughts by looking at her. “It was stolen… the guy just walked in here and took it… he was gone before I could move!”
“Oh my gosh… Why didn’t you tell me? Or Baloo?”
“Didn’t want you guys to worry... It’s almost Christmas, an' that would've wrecked the entire mood.”
“I’m not going to sit around and watch you feel sad about this! This is theft, burglary… Stay right here, I’m calling the police!”
“Miz. Cunningham, wait!” Kit cried in vain, desperate to stop Rebecca from alerting the police… Once again, the cub racked his brain to come up with a plausible explanation. This time, failing to do so would mean serious trouble…
Downstairs, Rebecca was on the phone talking to the C.S.P.D.. Of course nobody wanted to investigate a stolen trumpet just a few days away before Christmas. She was sent to numerous different departments before finally being disconnected while waiting for yet another department to pick up. With a sigh she sat down at her desk, imagining how Kit must be feeling… A knock at the front door startled her. She quickly walked over and opened it.
“Hello, Jerry O’Connor C.S.P.D.. You reported a stolen trumpet M’amm?” The shepherd dog standing outside took of his gloves. Apparently he had come by motorcycle.
“I thought you guys were ‘too busy for such a small theft'?” Rebecca said indignantly.
“We are! But it’s almost Christmas, and I can’t stand to hear a thing like that now… Was the item your property?”
“No, Kit’s…” O' Connor had taken out a notebook and looked directly at Rebecca. She knew he needed a full name. “Kit Cloudkicker”
“No kidding? We’re ehmmm… old friends. Is he here at this time?”
“Upstairs. That trumpet was his passion, Officer.”
“I can imagine. Stay around for a while, I never know how children react to my questions.” He started up the stairs, remembering his own words and wondering why he'd said that.
Kit was still sitting on his bed and polite as ever as Jerry knocked on the open door. With a small motion, Kit gestured him to come in and sit down.
“So, Kit. I heard what happened to your trumpet. Have you actually seen the thief?”
“In a flash. He just ran in here and took it.” Jerry had been writing in his notebook but Kit’s last statement seemed to ground him to a halt.
“Where do you keep - ehem… did you keep the trumpet?”
“Next to my bed.”
“And you were in your room at the time?”
“So basically, what you’re telling me is that someone managed to open the front door without damaging it, find his way upstairs completely ignoring the safe downstairs, come in here, get close to your bed and steal your trumpet without you giving chase?” He sighed, tore the page out of his notebook and put his pencil away. “What really happened here, Kit?”
“It’s the truth!” Kit said desperately.
“I’ve known you too long not to know when you’re hiding something. Why don’t you just tell me what happened?”
“Okay” Kit looked away again, beaten. “It wasn’t stolen… I hocked it to buy a record player for Baloo.”
Jerry sighed and leaned against the wall. He had just wasted ten minutes of his time only to find out there was no crime committed. Well, as long as he was here he might as well have a little talk with his ‘old’ friend.
“You know what the penalty is for this? Wasting police time… how many times have I let you off the hook already?” He reached in his pocket.
“Come on Jerry, you know I couldn’t tell anyone! I made up this story in a hurry and I never intended to waste your time.” Kit pleaded.
Jerry took another notebook out and took up his pencil again. “Okay, spill it - what record player did you buy and how much did it cost?” Kit looked at him, puzzled. Jerry smiled “I’m trying to get some gift ideas!”
“An R.A.C. - 1500…only 60 bucks at Flampert’s. But they’re out! But if you have some serious money to spend, they still have some R.A.C. - 2500 Luxor’s. Those are $109.95 though!” Kit grinned, relieved.
“What are you, a catalogue? That's a nice deal though. R.A.C., that’s some serious quality. But now what huh? In theory I’m obligated to give you a fine and inform your parents and/or legal guardian. Should I, or will you?”
“I’ll tell them Jerry, don’t worry… but it’s almost Christmas! I can’t ruin their holiday now. Oh, man! Miz Cunningham's gonna tell Baloo… I can’t let him worry about this, not now, not yet!”
“Need my help? At least I can be of some assistance that way.”
“To serve and protect, that’s my motto and hopefully that of the entire P.D. some day. I’ll feed her a line… But you are going to tell her after Christmas, Young Man!”
Kit laughed a little. Jerry was probably the only one besides Becky that could get away with calling him ‘young man’. Nevertheless, he was right. Kit could talk himself out of anything but this time he owed it to Jerry. “I will. Thanks a lot for bailing me out again. Guess I’m out of favors, huh?”
“Not as long as they don’t transfer me to another city you’re not. How much of the pawn money do you have left?”
“Then you gotta give me the address of that pawn shop sometime - you’ve been had!” He patted the cub on the back and departed with a smile.
Rebecca had been waiting nervously downstairs. She was more than a bit relieved to see Jerry returning. The questioning had taken quite some time and her mother’s instinct couldn’t seem to reassure her…
“And?” She couldn’t quite come up with a better question.
“Well, he’s obviously heartbroken about it, but in light of the information he has given me I must urge you not to discuss this incident with anybody. Not even Mr. Baloo. This might very well turn up a known gang.”
“In that case, of course not, not a word…”
“Thank you for your assistance, M’amm.”
Jerry put his gloves back on and walked out the door. He couldn’t help smiling a bit when he put on his helmet and sat down on his Havley Daridson… the standard police motorcycle in Cape Suzette. In one motion he kick started his metal horse and left in a cloud of dust. Rebecca watched him leave and started up the stairs to have a talk with Kit.
It didn't seem much like Christmas lately around Higher for Hire to Rebecca Cunningham. First Kit had been mooning about the place all day because of his trumpet - it tore her up inside every time she saw the boy surrender to the sadness that always seemed to be lurking, waiting to pounce on him and claim his spirit. As if that weren't bad enough, Baloo had been down in the dumps too, moping around the office, not even mustering his usual wisecracks. And here it was, only a few days til' Christmas!
She looked across at him, glumly stretched out on the easy chair, leg dangling over the side. "How's Kit?" she asked sympathetically.
"Kit? Oh, he's fine - I guess." the bear answered, looking confused.
"And how are you, Baloo? You seem kind of depressed-"
"I'm fine, Boss-lady." he replied a little irritably. "Just a little down, I guess."
"Come on Baloo - it's almost Christmas! I know things haven't been going perfectly but this is no time to be depressed! Cheer up!"
"Yeah, yeah, don't blow a gasket." the grey bear sighed.
"I'll bet Kit's looking forward to a real family Christmas, huh?" she asked, changing tack.
The pilot cracked a small smile. "Yeah, it'll be nice! I got 'im a real great gift Beckers - boy, will he be surprised!" The pilot grinned broadly at the mention of the gift, but then, strangely, frowned.
"What did you get for him, Baloo?"
Baloo smiled sadly. "I want it ta be a surprise Becky, but I can't wait to see 'is face. He'll love it..."
Rebecca set her work down and sighed. "Honestly Baloo, I don't know what's wrong with you - your moping around here is starting to make _me_ depressed!" She shook her head sadly. "I know I'll hate myself for saying it but... Why don't you put on that accursed Boogie-woogie record of yours? That sticky banana thing. It always seems to cheer you up..."
The pilot glanced quickly over at her and shifted uncomfortably. "Uh - I can't, Becky. That is, it's... broke."
The grey bear looked away. "Uh, the record player got kinda knocked over, and the record broke. No big deal, just an old record..."
"Just a record?" she frowned. "Baloo, the last time this happened you went half-crazy trying to get another copy! Now you say it's just a record? It doesn't-"
"Look!" the pilot snapped testily. "I _said_ it was just a record, OK? Just my Daddy's favorite ol' tune, that's all... Anyways, don't you tell L'il Britches about this, hear me? I want this Christmas to be real special fer him, and you know him - he hears I broke that record he'll be all sad an' sorry about it, and I don't want that! Understand?"
Rebecca sighed sadly. The strange games between those two never ceased to amaze her. "All right Baloo, if you want I won't tell him, although I think it's rather silly-"
"Thanks Beckers." the pilot said softly. "Main thing's Kit bein' happy. It's just an ol' tune anyways... My Daddy sure loved it, only thing we agreed about..." the pilot turned and walked out onto the dock. Rebecca watched him go, puzzled as ever by the male psyche, but convinced that the old record meant a lot more to him than he was admitting.
Kit looked over at the big bear next to him in the cockpit and smiled. "Gonna be nice to see ol' Louie, huh Baloo?" he asked, as the Sea Duck soared through the hazy late afternoon sky.
The grey bear chuckled. "Sure will Kiddo!" Baloo secretly hoped that their little pre-holiday visit to the amiable ape would shift the lad (not to mention himself) out of the strange funk they were both in. Sure, _he_ had a reason to be a little down, but why the kid? Just didn't make sense. Wait'll he saw his gift though! "Louie's a true friend, L'il Britches. Aces all the way."
"Sure is." Kit answered. The boy hoped that seeing his old buddy would snap him out of his mood. What did Baloo have to be depressed about anyways? The cub smiled, thinking about Baloo's face when he opened his gift. It would all be worth it then!
"Watcha grinnin' about, Britches?" Baloo asked playfully, well aware that he'd caught the boy in one of his daydreams, which seemed to come frequently when they were flying together.
"Oh, nothin'." Kit answered sheepishly, in his usual manner. "Just lookin' forward to Christmas is all. Should be fun. And it'll be great havin' everybody together!"
"Sure will Kid." the pilot replied, banking the yellow seaplane for it's final approach to Louie's island. "Wouldn't be right to let the holiday pass without droppin' in on ol' Louie though. Hope he likes our present."
"He will." the cub chuckled, as the Sea Duck noisily splashed in for a landing at Louie's floating pier. Bear and cub hopped down to the wooden planking as Louie's army of simian attendants descended on the plane. "Fill er up, Fellas!" Kit called, as he always did, even though the monkeys didn't need to be told. All part of the routine - and Kit had found he liked having routines in his life. He'd lived without them for far too long.
The dinner crowd was just starting to trickle in as they pushed open the bamboo and straw doors and approached the long bar. "Hey, Little Boy Baloo!" the orangutan shouted as he spotted the pair. The ape wore a tassled red Santa hat on his furry head. "Happy Christmas, Cuz! What's shakin' yer tree?"
"Not much, Monkey-man." Baloo chuckled, slapping Louie's hand and boosting Kit up onto the bar. "Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas!" the ape grinned, tweaking the cub's nose. "How ya doin', Shortstop? The jolly fat man gonna bring ya lots o' snazzy gifts this year?"
"I sure hope so Louie!" Kit laughed, patting Baloo's belly. "And maybe somethin' from Santa too!"
"Ha ha! You got that right!" Louie grinned. "So what brings you boys out here so close to the big day?"
"Hey!" Baloo replied, wrapping an arm fondly around Kit. "Gonna be a big family Christmas at home this year, Louie - so we hadda stop by early and tell ya' how much we love ya, right?"
The ape chuckled, watching Kit blush as Baloo embraced him. "Yeah, you boys is shore lucky, Fuzzy. And I'm lucky ta have a couple pals like you! Lemme whip up a couple Krakatoa specials, on the house! Merry Christmas!"
"Gee, thanks Louie!" Kit grinned.
"Yeah, thanks Pal. We brought ya a little somethin'-"
"Ya didn't hafta do that, Cuz!" the ape protested, whipping ice cream into two glasses.
"Sure we did, Louie - couldn't ferget our best pal on Christmas! Her ya go..." he grinned, whipping out a silver-wrapped package and handing it to the orangutan. "From Kit an' me."
"Aw, geez..." the ape smiled, sliding the sparkler-laden Krakatoa specials down the bar. "An' I didn't get you boys anythin'..."
"That's OK-" Kit started to answer.
"Ceptin, _these_, Cuz!" the ape laughed, whipping two packages out from under the bar. "Didn't think ol' Louie'd ferget ya, didya, Boys?"
"Hehe! Had me goin' fer a second there, Louie!" Baloo laughed. "G'won, open yer present!" he shouted, taking a heaping spoonful of ice cream into his mouth.
"Doobie-doobie-do-wa-wah!" Louie sang to himself merrily as he ripped the foil off of his gift. "Holy propwash!" he whispered, pulling out a leather-bound album. "What is it, Cuz?"
Baloo grinned. "Open 'er up! It's a scrapbook from all your reg'lar customers, Louie! Ever'body gave us a photo an' a personal thank-you note to you fer bein' the best friend a pilot ever had! Kit an' me's been puttin' it together fer two months!"
"Ya like it Louie?" Kit asked anxiously, the corners of his whipped cream covered mouth inching into a smile.
"Imagine that!" the ape laughed. "You boys is somethin'! Wiley Pole, Oscar Wiggerstomper - heck, ya even got Khan's pilots in here! C'mere!" he grinned, wrapping the two bears in his long arms. "You guys are the best! Goes right to this ol' ape's heart! Now go on an' open yer gifts, Cats!"
"Gee Louie, you really didn't have to, y''know." Kit said sheepishly. "You haven't known me that long-"
"Hey!" the ape protested. "Baloo's my oldest buddy, an' he's never been happier'n he is right now, Shortstop - and that's cause o' you! Yer a good kid, Kid! Yer an Ace, an' yer Baloo's boy, and yer always at home when yer in my club! Y'got that, Cuz?"
"Thanks Louie! " Kit blushed, as Baloo shot the ape a grateful grin. The boy ripped the carribean-styled wrapping off his gift and held it up. "My gosh! Eddie Bockenricker's flight journal - from the Great War! Is this for real, Louie?"
The ape laughed. "Sure is, Cuz! From the Louie's collection - ol' Eddie gave that to me back in '29. I knew you was a history buff, and yer sure nuts about airplanes, so I wanted ya to have it!"
"Aw Louie!" Kit whispered. "It's incredible - yer a Pal! Thanks!" The boy reached across the bar and wrapped his arms around the ape's neck.
Louie grinned at Baloo over the cub's shoulder as he hugged him. "Nice kid, Baloo!"
"He sure is!" Baloo smiled. "Now it's my turn!" The big grey bear savagely ripped the wrapping off of his present. He held up a large cotton towel. Uh, thanks. It's... it's..."
"It's a beach towel, Cuz! From yer floatin' gas station, remember? I saved it all this time!"
"Uh - thanks." the pilot said dubiously. "It's... That is-"
Louie laughed uproariously. "Just yankin' yer rudder, Fuzzy! Unfold the dang thing!"
Baloo set the towel down and unfolded it. Inside was a framed piece of paper. "Louie - what the heck is this?"
The ape chuckled and winked at Kit. "It's a certificate, Cuz - it says you're now the legal owner of 3% of Louie's place! I figgered you dumped so much o' yer hard-earned shaboozies down yer gullet at my club that you'd bought yer way into the business!"
"Wow!" Kit gasped.
"Louie, I - I dunno what to say!" the pilot gasped.
"Look, it ain't much in terms o' money, Baloo. But you been so loyal fer so long, figgered you deserved it. 'Sides, you got a kid to look after... Yer a real partner now. Anyways, maybe if ya know it's yer profits on the line you'll keep yer tab up, Cuz!" the ape laughed.
"Merry Christmas, Fuzzy!" Louie chuckled. "You too, Kid. Glad yer gonna be together this year. Just don't ferget to keep comin' out to see ol' Louie, you hear me?"
"No danger o' that, Pal!" Baloo grinned, slapping the orangutan's hand.
"Yeah Louie - yer the best!" Kit smiled, slapping the other one. "Merry Christmas." The band struck up a rousing samba beat as more pilot's streamed in, ready to settle down after a long flight with good food and company.
"Yes, Mr. McBruin!" Rebecca smiled into the phone. "That's certainly good news... Yes, four shipments, wonderful. Starting on the 26th? Yes, we can do that! Absolutely. No, thank you - for choosing Higher for Hire. We'll see you on Saturday then! Yes, Good-bye."
"Who was that, Mom?" Molly asked from the table, where she was eating a sandwich. "You sounds happy!"
"Just a new customer Molly - we can use all of those we can get!" the bearess grinned. Despite all her talk about the spirit of Christmas, she knew this new contract couldn't have come at a better time - it would make her Christmas shopping a lot more fun, knowing things were looking up back at the business. Especially in light of what she'd decided to buy for Kit... "Mommy's going to go out and do a little shopping for a while Honey - you stay and play with Wildcat, all right?"
"Aw Mom!" the yellow cub complained. "I wanna go shoppin' too!"
Rebecca laughed. "Last time you couldn't stop complaining about going shopping with me! Wildcat!" she shouted out the door. "Come in here please!"
"Are you gonna shop for _my_ present, Mommy?" the girl asked slyly as Wildcat poked his head through the door.
"None of your beeswax!" her mother scowled. The girl was too sharp for her own good... "Wildcat, I'm going out for an hour or two. Will you watch Molly for me please, and answer the phones? Kit and Baloo should be back pretty soon."
"Sure thing, Ree-becca." the mechanic smiled. "I'll teach her' howta rebuild a low frequency radio set, Man!"
"Fine, fine." Rebecca sighed, grabbing her purse. "Just do it in the office so you can answer the phone. And don't make a mess, OK? And you be good, Young Lady, or Santa won't bring you any presents!"
"OK, OK!" Molly grumbled. "Santa sure is tough to please..."
"Sure thing Miss Cunningham." Wildcat replied, boosting Molly onto his shoulders and heading for the workshop. "C'mon Mollycat, let's go get my stuff."
Kit's gift first... Rebecca couldn't help but grin as she headed for the music shop. Kit would be so thrilled, to see a brand new trumpet under the tree! It was a little extravagant, but at least they had some new business coming in. Besides, as loathe as the boy would be to admit it, she knew this Christmas meant a lot to him - it was his first with a real family.
Now Baloo, on the other hand, was a mystery. What to get a bear who's sole interests in life seemed to be eating, sleeping , and flying? Well, almost his sole interests, there was Kit of course... No matter how hard she tried she couldn't put herself inside the pilot's head and think what he might want. Actually, she was a little relieved about that part...
Clef's Music Supply was a bright, cheerful shop on the edge of the downtown shopping district. It was filled with busy shoppers on this frenetic shopping day, and she had to wait several minutes before a harried looking clerk, a bobcat in a tan suit with a piano keyboard tie, approached her with an overworked smile. "May I help you M'amm?"
"Yes, I need to buy a trumpet for my - for a friend. He's thirteen years old, and he's been playing for about three months. His was stolen. What would you recommend?"
"Trumpets? Right over here." he replied, motioning her to follow. He stopped at a large display case. "He's thirteen? I'd go with one of the more basic models, he's probably not ready for the top of the line jobs. This Owensbearo Classic is a nice horn. Good for beginners, but a real good tone too."
She looked over the shining golden instrument. "It's very nice... How much?"
"Only $159.50." the bobcat grinned. "Case sold separately."
Rebecca blanched. "A hundred and sixty dollars? Gee that's - I really can't afford that, I didn't realize they were so much..."
"Price for quality M'amm. You get what you pay for."
The bearess frowned. "What would be the - er - cheapest, trumpet you have?"
The bobcat glanced nervously and shifted his feet, looking at the throng of waiting customers behind the brown bear. "For a thirteen year-old student? That'd be the Gipson 200. $139.99."
"Oh no..." Rebecca sighed. She'd had no idea trumpets were so expensive! She was so sure - it was the perfect gift! But there were limits to her resources... "Perhaps I could buy him a used one?"
"We don't carry any used, M'amm. Cape Suzette Pawn, two blocks east, on 27th St. They usually have a few used horns in stock." the tuft-eared feline said impatiently. "Was there anything else I can help you with?"
"No, that's fine, thank you." she answered, and slipped out of the shop and into the cool afternoon. Oh well, nothing wrong with a used trumpet, she supposed. She'd never been in a pawnshop before, and she was actually a little curious to see how the other half lived. _If_ they had any trumpets... The walk was brief and enjoyable in the brisk afternoon, and after a few moments she stood outside her destination.
Cape Suzette Pawn was quite a contrast to the bright, shiny music shop. It was dusty, ill-lit and cluttered. A bored-looking hyena sat behind the counter smoking a fat cigar. "Merry Christmas Lady. What can I do ya for?" he asked in a gravelly voice as Rebecca looked around.
She coughed cigar smoke out of her lungs and forced a smile. They haggled on price in these places, didn't they? Had to look smart and tough... "Yes, I'm looking for a trumpet, for a young friend of mine. I was wondering if you had any?"
The hyena grinned toothily around his cigar. "Sure Lady - got a couple of 'em, right here." he replied, pointing to a display case with a formidable looking lock. Inside where a variety of musical instruments - saxophones, guitars, clarinets, banjos - and near the bottom, a couple of lonely trumpets. The man took out a set of keys and opened the case, taking out a tarnished horn. "This is a nice one right here Lady-"
"What about that one?" Rebecca interrupted, pointing at the other horn, a well-polished but humble looking gold trumpet.
"Sure, whatever." the hyena replied, lifting the horn out and giving it to Rebecca.
She grinned and looked it over. "It looks just like Kit's!" She didn't know much about trumpets, but if it looked the same it was probably a good replacement.
"Yeah, I just got that one in." the man nodded, taking a long puff on his stogie.
"What a wonderful coincidence!" Rebecca smiled. "This looks perfect - just like his old one! How much?"
The hyena chewed his cigar thoughtfully. "Well - she's in great shape, as you cam see. Real well taken care of. Eighty bucks."
"Eighty huh?" Rebecca replied, trying to look discerning. "There's a few scratches, and some tarnish... It's a gift you know! I'll give you seventy, if you throw in a case."
"Yer crazy, Hot-stuff!" the hyena cackled. "Seventy bucks?"
Hot-stuff? She was flattered and repulsed at the same time... "All right, seventy-two."
The man sighed dramatically. "What the heck, it's Christmas and all. OK, seventy-eight bucks and she's yours. I'll give ya the case it was brought in with."
"Fine. Seventy-five dollars and we have a deal."
The hyena looked silently at her for a moment, then chuckled. "OK Sweetcakes, seventy-five bucks. I'll get the case, it's in the back." He locked the display case and disappeared into the back room, taking the horn with him.
"Well that's Kit taken care of!" Rebecca said softly, rather pleased with herself. "He'll just love it!. Now Baloo, what in the world will I get him?" she muttered, glancing around the cases in the pawnshop to pass the time. What a variety of items - clocks, watches, appliances, radios... all once new and shiny and part of someone's life, now sitting in a pawnshop, having been hocked to pay the rent. It was a little sad when you thought about it... Her eyes fell on an item close to the window, and she froze.
It was a record - with a sign that said "I Got Them Flat-Broke Sticky-Shoes No Banana Boogie-Woogie Blues: Absolutely last copy on earth - we promise this time! $100.00"
"Here's yer case, Lady. Lady? You OK, Lady?" the hyena called out.
"Fine, just a minute." she said absently. Was this an omen? Surely, Baloo would love to have this - more than anything! It was an amazing coincidence. "Why couldn't it be something else - ANYthing else?" she moaned softly. "I _hate_ that song..."
"What's that Lady?"
"Nothing." she sighed. "Just looking at this record here..."
"Yeah, she's a real classic!" the hyena growled. "One of a kind Fats Wallaby - last one on earth! Real find, that one."
She hated that song - hated it with a passion. Was it her fault the stupid fat bear was so clumsy? And had such awful taste...
"Just my Daddy's favorite tune..."
"My Daddy sure loved it, only thing we agreed about..."
His Daddy... Baloo was a Daddy now, in a way. Probably thinking about his father a lot because of it. "I HATE that song!" she grumbled. But it _was_ Christmas... "This record here, I'll give you ninety dollars for it-"
"Ninety?" the hyena interrupted, seeming shocked. "You must be crazy, Honeylips! That's-"
She smiled ruefully. "Let's just say ninety-five and call it even, huh? Merry Christmas. Wrap it up!" She was going to _hate_ herself for this later...
The sky was clear - clear as only a south Pacific sky can be. The stars shone brilliantly, the light cast by the crescent moon barely illuminating it's own tiny quarter of the sky. It was crystalline and still - nary a whisper of breeze blew through the cool air. It was Christmas Eve.
The city of Cape Suzette rested quietly under the brilliant sky. The roads were nearly empty, most of the townsfolk already at home with their families. At the water's edge, outside of town, Higher for Hire sat peacefully in the starlight, the only sound the signal buoy softly ringing out over the gently lapping water of the Harbor. A shape moved through the sky overhead - an odd sight, a plane perhaps, but there was no sound of an engine. There was a faint red glow from the front of the object, and a soft echo of laughter and bells rang in it's wake. In a moment, the red light and the laughter had faded, and the sky was still and quiet again.
Inside, all was quiet too, save for the gentle snoring of a big grey bear. A pair of stockings with the names "Kit" and "Baloo" stenciled on them were hung over the fireplace, and a large, gaily decorated tree sat near the door.
The grey bear reclined on the large overstuffed chair that sat, thronelike, near the center of the room. He had his arm around the shoulder of a small brown bearcub who was nestled into the chair next to him, head resting on the big bear's chest as he slept peacefully. The cub had a small smile playing at the corner of his mouth, and each bear had a small pile of candy canes and other sweets resting on their bellies.
The grey bear snored loudly once, twice, then stirred and blinked. He glanced down at the sleeping figure next to him and smiled broadly. He gently caressed the cub's face for a moment, then silently stared at the boy for several minutes. Finally, he tapped the cub's nose lightly and called out softly. "C'mon Kit, wake up! Get up, L'il Britches!"
Kit twitched his nose sleepily, then yawned and opened his eyes. "Hey Baloo." he whispered, smiling up at the pilot without raising his head off of the big bear's chest.
"Guess what time it is?" Baloo asked gently, a small grin on his lips.
Kit sat up, lifting his head off the pilot's chest and resting it on the crook of his arm. "What time?"
"Midnight, Kiddo!" the big bear grinned, tweaking the boy's nose. "Merry Christmas, L'il Britches."
"Merry Christmas, Papa Bear." Kit whispered, wrapping his arms around the grey bear's neck and nuzzling his cheek. Baloo kissed the boy on top of his head and squeezed him tightly in his arms.
They embraced for a long moment, then Baloo released the cub and smiled down at him. "Happy with yer stocking stuffers, Kiddo?"
"Sure, Baloo, thanks!" Kit grinned. "The candy was great - I never had a Christmas stocking before. Thanks for the new stopwatch too."
"Hey, don't thank me - thank Santa!" the pilot protested. "Good thing he knew you were on the track team."
"Sure, whatever!" Kit chuckled, biting into a chocolate bar. "Thanks." They sat silently for several moments, content to be close, and neither feeling the need for words. Finally the boy spoke, without looking up. "Know where I was last Christmas Eve, Papa Bear?"
"I was on the Iron Vulture." the boy said matter of factly. His eyes had a faraway look. "Most of the guys were on a big heist - Don Karnage always said Christmas Eve was the best time for a big job - everybody was thinkin' about other stuff, and their guard was down."
"I was there, along with most of the pirates who didn't even have planes. A few others stayed behind.. Gibber was there, but he wasn't much fun to talk to... I wanted to come along, but Karnage said no way." The boy stared out the window for a moment. "Y'know, I never really thought much about bein' lonely, or bein'... y'know, alone. When I was out there. You can't afford to. But I guess around this time of year you think about it more. I was thinkin' about my Mom an' Dad, where they were... _who_ they were. Why they didn't - why maybe they didn't want me..."
"L'il Britches, stop!" Baloo said gently. "It's Christmas, we're together-"
"That was a pretty long night." the boy sighed. "Pretty amazin', huh? There I was, a year ago, and here I am now - seems like forever, Baloo!"
"The past is the past, L'il Britches." the pilot said softly, pulling the cub close to him. "That's all over now-"
"I know." Kit whispered. He grinned up at Baloo. "Thanks, Papa Bear. Thanks for believin' in me, even if I didn't deserve it..."
"Kiddo, we got our whole future together, you an' me. That's all that matters. You an' me together, this Christmas, every Christmas. Always. I promise." Kit leaned across and buried his face in Baloo's neck, spilling his candy onto the chair. The grey bear hugged him softly and stroked his hair. "I'm the luckiest bear in the world, L'il Britches."
"Second luckiest." the boy giggled, voice muffled by Baloo's fur. He turned his head and smiled up at the pilot. "Y'know, it's kinda funny - Karnage was the one with all the schemes and plans - and. I'm the one that struck it rich!" The cub wrapped his arms tightly around the big bear's neck. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas." Baloo chuckled. The boy slid out of the chair and stood. The big bear followed and they walked, hand in hand, over to the window. They stared silently into the starlit sky as the signal buoy gently sang on the water below.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear over Cape Suzette, only a few puffy clouds dotting the azure sky. It was warm enough to walk, so Rebecca had disdained a taxi and decided to head over to Higher and Higher on foot. She walked hand in hand with Molly, the yellow cub happily pointing out the elaborate lights and decorations that adorned the houses they passed.
Rebecca's emotions were a little divided on this yuletide morning. She couldn't help but think of her own family, back home, and be a little sad. Christmas was a time to spend with family, after all. Still, the crew at Higher for Higher had already evolved into something like a family itself. Baloo and Kit had something special between them, that was for certain - but it was more than that. Something had been in the air, from that first night she and Molly had spent at Higher for Hire. In the air and in Kit's eyes.
It scared her a little, this sense of how the boy had latched onto her daughter and herself like a life preserver. She wasn't sure she was comfortable feeling that needed by someone she'd only known for a short time, but she nevertheless found herself reciprocating the cub's feelings more and more. And as for Baloo - well, maybe at first she and the pilot had maintained a friendship above and beyond the business mainly for Kit's sake, but even there she felt the mutual bonds of affection growing stronger all the time. And here she was, spending Christmas day with them. Things never seemed to turn out exactly as you planned...
Between her daydreaming and Molly's excited prattling the bearess lost track of time, and seemingly before she knew it she stood outside Higher for Hire. Even the building reinforced her sense of a deep commitment - it was her place of business, but it was also where her flight crew lived. Their home. "Here we are, Sweetie!" she grinned at her daughter, and stepped through the door.
To her surprise, she was met by a delightful array of smells emanating from the kitchen. "Baloo!" she laughed in the direction of the big bear, who stood over the stove with an apron tied around his ample belly, Kit at his side. A fire crackled merrily in the fireplace. "Don't tell me you're making Christmas dinner?"
"You don't think I got ta lookin' like this without knowing my way around a kitchen, do ya Beckers?" the grey bear said indignantly. "Happy Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas!" she chuckled as Molly slipped out of her grip and ran towards the two bears.
"Baloo! Kit! Was Santa here last night?" she squealed, as Kit scooped her into his arms. The boy wore a festive red and white sweater in place of his usual green one.
"He sure was, Pigtails." Kit grinned. "Left some neat stuff under the tree too! Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas." the yellow cub grinned, kissing the laughing boy on the cheek. Baloo set down a large ladle and headed over to join them. He snatched the girl out of Kit's arms and tickled her mercilessly.
"Merry Christmas, Miz Cunningham!" Kit smiled shyly.
Rebecca set down her shopping bag of presents and hugged the boy tightly. "Merry Christmas Honey." she said merrily. "Like my earrings?"
Kit stepped back and looked at the dangling silver snowflakes she wore. "Becky!"
"Looks like it was a white Christmas this year!" she chuckled. "Excited about your first big Christmas at home?"
"You bet!" the boy grinned, sneaking a peek into her shopping bag.
"Hey! You can just wait like everybody else!" she scolded, and the cub laughed and walked back into the kitchen as Baloo set Molly down and approached her.
To Rebecca's surprise, the pilot hugged her in his massive arms. "Merry Christmas Becky. Thanks fer comin'."
"You're welcome, Baloo." she smiled. "Smells like you've got a real feast brewing in there!"
The pilot wrapped an arm around her shoulder and chuckled. "Like I said Becky, you don't get a belly like mine without knowin' a colander from a calendar. I may not be no poster boy fer Better Homes and Cockpits but I do okay. I got dinner in the oven, an' Kit whipped up a mean cornbread stuffin' too!"
The two bears watched the cubs, who by now were on hands and knees under the tree, shaking the gifts and speculating on the comments. Kit met their eyes across the room and winked. "I'll tell ya what Becky." the grey bear said softly. "I ain't had a Christmas like this since - well, I can't remember. I sure am lucky ta have Kit, ya know that?"
"You're both lucky." she smiled, squeezing his paw.
"Not just ta have Kit though, Beckers. This place feels like a real home now... fer Kit - an' fer me, too. Thanks, Darlin'. Couldnt've done it without ya."
"Baloo - you don't know the half of it. I thought Molly was never going to have a real family like this again... Let's just say it was my pleasure." She kissed him on the cheek, prompting a huge smile from Kit. She set off for the tree, gifts in hand. "Let's just set these up under the tree, Kids." she grinned, arranging the gifts under the stately scotch pine. "And here's some Christmas cookies, but don't eat too many! Don't want to spoil that beautiful dinner!"
"Yay!" Molly cried, grabbing the tin of cookies from her mother.
Wildcat burst through the door, clad, inevitably, in his greasy coveralls. "Hey guys! Merry Christmas, to all, and to all a good night!"
"Uh, thanks Wildcat." Rebecca smiled. "Merry Christmas to you too." The mechanic stashed two small parcels under the tree and gleefully began wrestling with Molly.
Kit gently clasped Rebecca's paw and they walked over to the table, Baloo already ensconced there with a pot of coffee. The big bear poured them each a cup and Kit gave them each a gaily colored sugar cookie, and they sat and watched Wildcat and Molly for a moment. "I sure am glad you an' Molly are here, Miz Cunningham." the boy said sheepishly. "I guess I don't really tell you like I should, but... you guys are the best. It wouldn't feel like Christmas if you weren't here."
Rebecca couldn't help but be struck by the contrast between the yellow cub and the mechanic, gaily romping under the tree, and the serious, almost somber boy who sat next to her at the table. Even on Christmas, he was still tied up in his own thoughts, emotions. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, Kit." she said gently, grabbing his paw in her own. "Aren't you happy? We're all together!"
The boy took a bite of his cookie and smiled. "I'm happy! I guess I just - I dunno, I almost can't believe it's real, y'know? I sort of - I guess I dreamed about it. Y'know, havin' Christmas like this, with - with a family an' everything. I just never let myself think it would really happen."
"It's real." she chuckled, wrapping her arms around him and holding him tightly.
Baloo reached over and gently tousled Kit's hair. "Yeah Kid - Sometimes dreams really do come true". The pilot softly scratched the cub's ear. "Sometimes dreams you didn't even know you had."
Kit looked sharply up at Baloo, and their eyes locked for a moment, sharing a look of understanding. "Oh, Baloo-"
The big grey bear laughed gaily, the sound filling the room. He wrapped his arms around Rebecca, squeezing the cub between them. "Sometimes you just gotta stop thinkin' and just be happy, L'il Britches!"
Kit giggled, jammed between the two laughing bears. "I can't breathe!" he shouted playfully.
"Mommy, when we get to open our presents?" Molly shouted impatiently from across the room. Seeing the shared hug, she raced across to the table and jumped on the pile, determined to get her share of it.
"Easy, Pigtails!" Baloo chuckled as the yellow cub climbed over his shoulder. "Don't think ya even stopped long enough to put yer gear down that time!"
"Oh Molly!" Rebecca admonished, pulling the squealing cub onto her lap. "Well Boys - shall we get to the gifts then?"
Baloo pulled Kit onto his knee and tickled his chin from behind, prompting a fit of wild giggling. "Guess so Becky! These dang kids'll have us all worn out in a minute!" He continued to tickle the cub mercilessly.
"Baloooo! Stop it!" Kit managed to breathe, tears rolling down his cheeks from his furious laughter. Finally the big bear relented and hugged the boy tightly. "You tryin' to make me bust a rib, Papa Bear?" he panted.
"Naw, just love ta see ya laugh, that's all L'il Britches." Baloo grinned. "C'mon, let's open some presents! You ready fer presents, Wildcat?"
"Oh yeah, Man, you bet!" the mechanic smiled. "No better time for presents than the... current time, Baloo!"
The four bears walked over and staked out positions around the tree next to Wildcat. Baloo sat down next to Kit, his are wrapped around the boy's shoulder as he sat cross-legged next to Rebecca. She held her squirming daughter on her lap and reached under the tree. "Here's one for... Wildcat! From Kit and Baloo. Here you go, Wildcat."
"Thanks, Ree-becca!" the mechanic smiled, taking the package. "What do they call 'em presents, anyways? Cause they're always here? What about like, if I leave one somewheres, and I'm in another place? Is it still a present? Cause it ain't present, Man!"
"I dunno, Wildcat!" Baloo laughed. "I think you may be the first person that's ever asked! Go ahead and open that sucker."
The mechanic ripped the paper off of the rectangular shaped box and held it up. "Oh wow Man - tools!"
"Not just any tools, Wildcat!" Kit said proudly. "It's a 100% stainless steel socket wrench set - the most advanced on the market! Ya like 'em?"
"Oh yeah Man!" the mechanic whispered, holding the toolkit up to the light. "My old wrenches was all stained real bad, too. Thanks a lot, guys!"
Rebecca grabbed a long, thin box. "As long as you're at it, Wildcat, this one's for you, from Molly and I. Merry Christmas."
"Thanks Ree-becca, thanks Mollycat." The lion ripped the paper off and pulled the lid of the box. "It's clothes, right?" he said, pulling out a large garment.
"It's a new pair of coveralls, Wildcat." Rebecca said patiently. "Since you never seem to be able to get the stains out of your old ones no matter how often you wash them." However often that was... "These are stain-resistant!"
"We'll see how long that lasts!" Baloo whispered to Kit, who stifled a laugh.
"Stain-resistant, huh? Stain-resistant and stainless steel - it's the cleanest Christmas ever! Thanks you guys!" The mechanic smiled at Becky and her daughter. "Oh! Oh! My turn now! Now you guys gotta open my presents!"
"Sure Wildcat." Kit chuckled. "I'll go first. Where's mine?"
"It's outside, Kit!" Wildcat grinned proudly.
"Outside?" Baloo asked, puzzled.
"Yeah Man, follow me." the mechanic replied, leading them out the door. "Last night I snuck out and installed yer present and Baloo's present on the Sea Duck!" Baloo and Kit shared a bemused look. "C'mon Kit, yours is right up here in the cockpit!"
The four bears followed the mechanic into the cockpit of the old yellow seaplane. "Like, I didn't wanna leave the Sea Duck out, y'know? So I figgered I'd make yer presents her presents too! Merry Christmas, Kit!" he said proudly, gesturing at the console in front of the navigator's chair.
"Uh, thanks Wildcat." the cub said dubiously. "Um - what is it?"
"Oh yeah!" the mechanic chuckled. "I fergot! Right here." The lion reached under the console and pulled out a large wooden platform. "See, Man? It's a new navigation board. You got a spot for maps, and a place for yer sextant and compass. Even a cup holder fer trips to Louie's. And it's on rollers, so ya can just stow it back under the panel fer landings!"
"Wildcat, that's really neat!" Kit enthused. "Now I never have to fumble around with all those maps and stuff on my lap Baloo!"
"Wildcat, yer amazin'!" the pilot grinned.
"Thanks Wildcat! It's great!" Kit laughed, clapping the mechanic on the shoulder.
"No problem, Kit. Now it's your turn, Baloo. Yours is outside."
"Outside?" Baloo laughed. "Yer a pip, ya know that Wildcat?" He climbed down out of the cockpit and helped the others down.
"Around by the tail, Man." the lion announced, leading the little group to the rear of the plane. "Baloo, remember when you was complaining that you don't get any rest when the plane's bein' loaded and unloaded?"
"Sure. By the time I get the hammock all set up, it's time ta take off! I miss valuable nap time that way. It's a real problem."
"Hah!" Rebecca scoffed. "Like _you_ need any more sleep!"
"I swear, Becky!" the pilot huffed. "One of these days... Pow! Right in the kisser!"
"Anyways, I fixed it." Wildcat grinned, bending down under the tail, where a canvas pouch had been mounted. "See, Baloo? You just push this button here, and the hammock deploys automatically!" He depressed a button, and the hammock popped out of the pouch and hung suspended under the tail.
"Wildcat - it's great! I love it!" the pilot grinned.
"I hate it!" Rebecca muttered.
"An' see? When yer done, you just turn this little hand crank here..." the lion turned a small winch. "And the hammock's pulled back up into the sack and stowed away. It's the world first fully automated napping device, Man!"
"It's fantastic!" Baloo laughed. "Now no break is gonna be too short fer a nap! Now _that's_ what I call a practical gift! Thanks Wildcat!"
The mechanic led the quartet back inside, where they staked out their positions under the tree once again. Wildcat never did anything by the book, Kit thought to himself. Even giving presents was an unpredictable adventure... "This one fer you, Miz Cunningham." the lion smiled, handing the bearess a small, clumsily wrapped parcel.
"Thanks Wildcat." she smiled, a small feeling of dread coming over her. She braced herself and opened the package. To her surprise, it held a bottle of perfume - expensive at that!. "Wildcat! Calvin Bruin's 'Possession'! This is a very lovely bottle of perfume, thank you..."
"You always smell better'n anybody, Ree-becca - I figgered that was yer best feature!" the mechanic grinned shyly.
"Mom!" Molly barked loudly. "When do _I_ get to open my presents?"
"Molly! That's not very polite..." her mother scolded.
"Here ya go Mollycat." the lion smiled, handing her a package. "I made this for ya myself." The little girl ripped the loose foil off the small parcel and held up a small silver box, which she stared at, puzzled. "Open it up." the mechanic prodded.
The yellow cub complied, and high pitched music began emanating from the little box, prompting a squeal of delighted surprise from the girl. "What is it?"
"It's, like, a music box, Molly. You can put jewelry or whatever in there..."
"Neat! How does it work?" she hissed wonderingly.
"Wildcat - that's very sweet!" her mother grinned. "I had no idea you knew how to make something like that!"
Baloo chuckled. "He can make anything if it's mechanical!" he said knowingly. "Good work, Wildcat."
"Thank you, thank you!" the yellow cub squealed, throwing her arms around the lion's neck, prompting an embarrassed chuckle.
"Well, that's it fer Molly, huh?" Baloo said, winking at Kit. "That's what we agreed, right - only one present for Molly!"
"No! That's ain't fair! I wannanotherone!" the yellow cub protested.
Baloo scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Hmmm... I guess she's been good, _some_ o' the time... Whaddaya think, Kiddo?"
"I dunno!" Kit said dubiously. "She's an awful lot of trouble when I baby-sit her..."
"Stop it!" the girl shouted, well aware by now of what was going on.
Baloo laughed. "OK, Button-nose, just pullin' yer propeller! Here ya go - Happy Christmas from Kit an' me."
"Thanks." she said, a little poutily, grabbing the package from him. She ripped the paper off savagely and opened the box. Squealing with delight, she whipped out a handsome looking doll. "It's Schroeder! Lucy's boyfriend!"
"That's right Kiddo. Even got ya a couple extra outfits for 'im and everythin'!" Baloo chuckled.
"What do we say, Molly?" her mother prompted her, as she clutched the doll to her chest.
"Thank you! Thanks Baloo! Thanks Kit!" she crawled over and kissed each of them. "Lucy's gonna be so happy - she's been complainin' too much lately!"
Rebecca laughed and reached under the tree, producing a small, beautifully-wrapped box with a red bow on top. "Well Molly, since you seem to going full steam, here's Mommy's present. I hope you like it." she said, looking concerned.
The yellow cub took the box. "Mom, I'm sorry I was so worried about that stupid watch before. It's not important."
Rebecca looked surprised. "Well - that's a very mature attitude, young lady. I'm very proud of you. You've learned a valuable lesson about the meaning of Christmas."
"Thanks." the girl replied softly, slowly and neatly pulling the paper off the box. She squealed with delight. "It's the watch! The Danger Woman Top-secret Spy Locator watch! Oh thank you thank you thank you Mommy!" she cried, throwing her arms around her mother and nearly knocking her to the floor. "I love you!"
"I love you too, Sweetie. Merry Christmas." Rebecca laughed, a tear rolling down her cheek. "I knew how much you wanted it, so I got it for you last night."
"I know. I peeked when you was wrappin' it." the girl said sheepishly. Baloo and Kit collapsed against each other, laughing.
Rebecca was aghast. "Molly! I can't believe that you'd do that! You sneaky little-"
"Dunno where she gets _that_ from!" Baloo wheezed through his mirth.
"I still meant that about the watch not bein' important, Mom. I'm just glad we're all together on Christmas." the yellow cub said earnestly.
Rebecca smiled in spite of herself. "Of course. That's what's important..."
"Sure is nice to have the watch though!" the little girl muttered under her breath.
Kit grinned a mile wide. "Miz Cunningham - Now open our gift to _you_!" He handed her a small parcel.
"Yeah Mommy! It's-"
"Hush Molly!" the boy said quickly. "Don't spoil the surprise!"
"Oh! Sorry Kit!" Molly blushed.
"This is from all three of us, Becky!" Kit smiled. "Yer gonna love it!"
"Goodness!" Rebecca chuckled, carefully unwrapping the box without ripping the paper. "What could it be?" She slipped the wrap off and pulled the top off of a small white box. "It's beautiful! I can't - where did you get this?" she gasped, holding up a dazzling gold locket.
"Ya like it Beckers?" Baloo grinned, arm around Kit's shoulder. "I found that on that cargo haul ta Nanducket Island, at the antique bazaar. Real gold, too. Thought o' you right away!"
"Oh Baloo!" she whispered. "It's gorgeous..."
"Open it up - that little button on top!" he chuckled. "That part was Kit's idea - he paid fer it, an everything-"
"I helped!" Molly shouted.
"Kit n' Molly paid fer it!" Baloo laughed. Kit watched Rebecca's eyes intently as she opened the front of the locket.
Rebecca stared down at the locket, inside which was a small photograph, in which Baloo sat, Molly on one knee and Kit on the other, his arms around their shoulders. All had broad smiles on their faces, and Kit and Baloo wore suits and ties. Molly was adorned in her fanciest white dress. "Oh my goodness!" she sighed with a tear. "It's just beautiful! How - how did you-"
"When Kit was baby-sittin' a couple weeks ago." the big bear grinned. I snuck over there and we went out and had that taken."
"You like it Mommy?" Molly asked, crawling onto her lap.
"I love it Baby!" she grinned.
"I thought it's be nice, you know..." Kit said sheepishly. "So we'll always be together, see? And close to your heart."
Rebecca slipped the chain around her neck and kissed Molly on the head. She reached over Kit's head and clasped Baloo's paw. "Thank you so much, Baloo. The locket is just beautiful - it's incredible!"
"No sweat Becky!" the pilot grinned, blushing a little.
She grabbed Kit's head in her paws and looked down at him. "You always know just how to make me cry, don't you?"
"So you like it then?" he giggled.
"It's so thoughtful - and so are you!" she laughed, touching noses with him playfully. "Ill never forget it. Thanks! Thanks to all of you!"
"You're welcome!" Kit grinned.
"Aw, c'mon Kid! You gotta open _my_ present now!" Baloo burst out. "I can't wait no longer to see your face - yer gonna _love_ it!"
"You first Baloo!" the boy countered. "You won't believe what I got you - it's amazing!"
"Naw - you first L'il Britches!" Baloo said stubbornly. He'd waited a long time to see that expression of pure joy he knew Kit would flash when he saw his gift.
"No, no - after _you_!" Kit smiled. He didn't think he could wait another minute to see Baloo's face.
"All right!" Rebecca chuckled. Those two were something else! "Why don't you both open them at the same time?"
"Sounds fair, Man!" Wildcat nodded thoughtfully.
Bear and cub looked at each other for a moment. "Welll... OK!" they said simultaneously. Kit reached under the tree and handed Baloo a large box. Baloo reached down and picked up a small box and handed it to the boy.
"OK - ready?" Baloo asked.
"On three." Kit replied. "One... two... three!" Both bears ripped the paper off the packages quickly, glancing up expectantly to see the expression on each other's face. Finally, they realized that neither had looked at their own present. Chuckling, Baloo looked down at the exposed box.
Kit opened up the envelope that he'd found inside the box. He looked at the certificate inside and his jaw dropped. "B-Baloo!" he stammered. He couldn't believe it...
"L'il Britches!" Baloo gasped.
"What? What are they?" Rebecca prodded.
"Kit - it's a gramophone! A beautiful gramophone!" Baloo whispered. "Oh, Kid..."
"Trumpet lessons!" Kit gasped. "With - with Dexter Bearsfield! Twenty lessons! Papa Bear, I - I can't believe it..." Kit said, a tear rolling down his cheek. "It's the best present- I-"
"Wa-how!" Wildcat said, impressed. "Pretty neat!"
Baloo could hardly believe what he was seeing. "Oh, Kid - this is amazing - you shouldnt've..." He was startled to see tears rolling down the boy's face. "Kit! Whatsa matter? You OK?"
Kit wiped his eyes and looked at the bear. "Baloo - this is the best present I ever got! You - I just can't believe it!" he grinned weakly.
"L'il Britches - what's wrong?" the big bear asked, puzzled. He grabbed the cub's shoulders gently. "What is it?"
"Baloo, I - I sold my trumpet!" Kit whispered. Rebecca's jaw dropped. "And you got me this incredible present-"
"_Sold_ it?" Baloo gasped. "Why, L'il Britches?"
The boy smiled tearily. "To get the money to buy you the gramophone! So you could listen to your Dad's record, I know how much it means to you!"
"It was my fault, I broke the old one Papa Bear! It's OK, I don't mind! It was worth it!" Kit chuckled sadly. "Now you can listen to your Dad's record, whenever you want! It's a great gramophone too, a real fancy one!"
"Aw, Kid." Baloo said sadly, burying his face in his hands. "You shouldnta done that, L'il Britches..."
"What's wrong Papa Bear? Don't you like it?" Kit said softly. "It was the best one I could afford-"
"Aw Kit!" Baloo hissed, hugging the boy's head to his chest. "I sold the record, L'il Britches!" Rebecca's jaw dropped another notch, as Wildcat and Molly looked on, rapt.
"You sold it?!" Kit said in disbelief. "Why?"
Baloo shook his head. "So's I could get you the trumpet lessons, Kid! I know how much you love that Bearsfield guy, and I know how much you wanna keep playin', and they're droppin' the music class at school-"
"But yer Dad's record!" Kit snuffled. "You love that!"
Baloo hugged the boy. "Naw, that's not important L'il Britches! That's all the past. _Yer_ what's important to me now, the future's all I care about. Not some dumb ol' slab o' vinyl-"
Kit buried his face in Baloo's chest, fighting down a sob. "Papa Bear - this is terrible! Now neither one of us can use our presents..." Kit was devastated. He'd done everything he thought was right - It _felt_ so right! And it had all blown up in his face, just like it always seemed to...
"What happened, Mommy?" Molly asked, confused by what she was witnessing.
"Shhh." her mother whispered. She couldn't tear her eyes away from the scene before her, even as things began to fall into place in her mind.
"Naw, it's OK. It's OK, L'il Britches!" Baloo said softly. "Don't ya see, Kid? This is what Christmas is all about. Don't ya see?"
Kit sniffled a few times and looked up at the grey bear's face. "What do you mean?"
Baloo cupped Kit's chin in his massive paw. "Kid, we was thinkin' about each other, not ourselves, don't ya see? Fer once in my life, I thought about somebody else before I thought o' myself - I didn't care about that ol' record, if I could make you happy! I never did that before, L'il Britches! An' you was just thinkin' about me, when ya did what ya did. You wanted me ta be happy too. It ain't the gifts that matter Kiddo, it's what we thinkin' about when we got 'em. And we was thinkin' about each other! Don't ya see?"
Kit forced a smile. "Yeah - I just wanted you to be able to hear your record... I didn't even care about my trumpet! I just wanted you to be happy, Papa Bear."
Baloo lifted the cub in his arms and embraced him tightly. "That's what it's all about, L'il Britches. Christmas. An' bein' a family." he whispered. "We both just figgered it out at the same time, that's all."
"You're the best, Papa Bear." Kit said softly. "I love you."
"Love ya too, L'il Britches." Baloo grinned. "Merry Christmas."
Molly smiled, not really understanding what had happened but somehow getting the essence of it. Even Wildcat was quiet, sensing the gravity of the moment. Rebecca wiped away a tear, touched by the emotional bond her best friends had forged together. What's more, events of the last few days were suddenly making much more sense to her. "Uh, Baloo? Kit?" she said sheepishly.
Bear and cub looked over at her expectantly, cheek to cheek. Kit's face was still wet with tears. She smiled. "I think you boys had better open up your gifts from Molly and myself. Maybe you should open them together!" She handed Kit a large package and Baloo a thin one. Both were rather sloppily wrapped in gold foil paper.
"I wrapped 'em!" Molly said proudly.
Baloo and Kit took their gifts and slowly peeled away the paper, the pilot casting a puzzled look in Rebecca's direction. She just smiled slyly at him.
Kit finished ripping the wrap away first, and looked down at the case, recognition and then disbelief dawning in his eyes. He looked at Rebecca, mouth agape, but she only smiled again. "My trumpet!" Kit whispered, pulling open the case and holding up the gold horn. "I - I don't believe it!"
"My record!" Baloo gasped, staring down in disbelief. "My Daddy's record! Becky, I - I don't get it! How-"
"Merry Christmas!" she laughed gaily.
Kit hugged the trumpet to his chest lovingly, scarcely believing it was really there. "Becky! How - how did you know? How could you possibly have known?" he whispered.
"I didn't!" she laughed. " I just thought... I thought they'd make you happy, I suppose. You both seemed down, and I knew you missed them. I happened to see the record when I went to the pawn shop to look for a trumpet... I had no idea it was yours-"
"You sold the record at the pawn shop?" Kit asked Baloo in amazement.
"_You_ sold your trumpet there?" Baloo laughed incredulously. Kit brought the horn to his lips and blasted a few notes into the room. Baloo shook his head in amazement. "Becky, this musta set you back-"
"It's nothing." she said softly. "What better use could there possibly be for money than to make your family happy?"
Kit set the trumpet down and wrapped his arms around Rebecca. "Thank you! Thanks so much... This is the best Christmas I ever had! Thanks!"
"You're welcome!" she chuckled. "I know how much you love that trumpet-"
"Not for that." he whispered, holding her tightly.
"My Daddy's record..." Baloo wrapped his arms around the two brown bears. "Becky - I dunno what to say... I know how ya feel about that ol' tune-"
"So do I!" she giggled.
"Boy Beckers..." he stammered. "It's - I guess I never really told ya but - I been tryin' pretty hard, y'know, ta make this a home. A home fer Kit... And ta make this Christmas a special one fer him... I - I'm just real grateful Becky. I'm just grateful is all. Yer pretty special."
"You're pretty special too, Baloo." she grinned, chin on Kit's shoulder. "Both of you."
Baloo kissed her on the cheek sheepishly and grinned. "Not a bad Christmas after all, huh L'il Britches?"
The boy lifted his head from Rebecca's shoulder at last and smiled. "I'll never forget it, Papa Bear. Is it real?"
"It's real!" he laughed, enveloping them in a hug. "C'mere, Pigtails!" he grinned, hoisting Molly onto his shoulders. Merry Christmas, Molly. Merry Christmas, Wildcat!"
"Merry Christmas Baloo!" Molly laughed.
"Merry Christmas, Man!" Wildcat smiled, clapping Baloo on the shoulder and winking at Kit. "Like, God bless us - every one!"
Kit laughed and winked back at the mechanic. He smiled at Molly and looked at Baloo and Becky's faces, filled with pride and joy, and he knew at that moment that he was the wealthiest cub in the world. He's struck it rich, without even trying All of the other Christmases, at the orphanage, on the street, even on the Iron Vulture - they didn't matter anymore. _They_ felt like the dream now, unreal. His world was here. His heart was here, and he was home. It was the only gift he'd ever really wanted.
Christmas was a wonderful day, but it was just one day. His gift was the best kind, he knew - his gift was every day, for the rest of his life. He'd never forget this Christmas, that was for sure. But is was just a day. Every day was a magical gift, each one more precious than the last, and he had a lifetime of days ahead of him. He was the richest cub in the world.
Postcript - The author's wish to salute O. Henry for his short story "Gift of the Magi" that provided the inspiration for this humble tribute. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!