Written By: Charles Gray Disclaimer: All characters are copyright 1990/1991 Walt Disney Company and are being used without premission. The writer of this fanfic has made sure that no money was made in the creation of this fanfic and that all material is used with the upmost affection and respect to the Walt Disney Company and the Tale Spin Team.
Molly looked up at her tiger sitting across the table from her, forcing her bloodshot eyes to focus on his equally bedraggled face.
"So Michael. Which one of us had the great idea of taking advanced chemistry and Calculus this year?" The fourteen-year-old bearess asked. Michael pushed his text book aside and groaned.
"I think it was your idea to take calc… and I decided to make a clean sweep of it and take chemistry." He paused, "Where’s Jereem?"
"At a movie… with Hannah." Molly said. "He’s aced all the tests… he doesn’t even have to show up for the final to get an A" She smiled tiredly. "He was going to come here and give us a hand, but I convinced him to go to the movie."
"We could have used the help." Michael said.
"Every time Jereem explains it, I get the feeling that My IQ just dropped about twenty points…" Molly laughed, "I guess some people just have a gift for science and math." She sighed, and looked at the chapter on tangents. "On the other hand, I think you might have been right." She blinked, looking at the dark sky outside of the window. "What time is it?"
"About 10:30." Rebecca said, coming into the dining room.
"Mom!" Molly said, "I thought you had gone out with Mac."
"I had, Molly… and we got back about two hours ago." Rebecca smiled at her daughter. "So tell me… how much have you gotten done in the last hour or so."
"Well…." Molly said. Rebecca walked over and looked at her paper.
"A plus sign is add, not subtract, sweetie. I think it’s time you called it a night."
"But the test!" Molly wailed.
"You’re getting a strong ‘B’ in the class, Molly." Rebecca said, "And you’re fourteen, and taking a class that usually is only for juniors and seniors…. You’ll do fine." She smiled. "Besides, if you finish all of this before your senior year… what will you do then?"
"Take fun classes." Molly said. Rebecca blinked. "Actually mom… I want to graduate early, and start college at 17." Rebecca looked surprised.
"We’ll talk about that tomorrow." Rebecca said, looking at her daughter. "For now, I think you’d better head home, Michael…"
"OK…" The tiger said.
"Mom… Could he stay for a little while longer?" Molly asked.
"And what about the test tomorrow?" Rebecca said.
"Oh." Molly said, reddening. "I’ll go with you to the car, Michael."
"OK," Michael said as they gathered the scattered papers and books, stuffing Michael’s into his bag. Becky waited until they had left the apartment, then walked back into the living room where Mac sat. The burly badger looked up at Rebecca and stood, both taller and broader then her.
"I heard that," Mac said, "Calc and advanced chemistry… at fourteen? That’s pretty advanced stuff."
"I was surprised too, but evidently Molly has some kind of bet going on with Michael." Mac laughed.
"I know exactly the bet, too." Rebecca raised her eyebrows.
"Yes?" Mac ran one hand through his hair, the silver streaks running through his crewcropped brown hair.
"Well…. Michael’s probably going to some fancy private college, Harvard maybe. Where’s Molly going?" Rebecca sighed.
"Well, probably the City college… I really don’t have enough money to put her through a private college and pay for room and board."
"Yep, not many people do… unless the daughter in question can get a full academic scholarship…." Mac paused, "Jereem could go to any college he wants… hell I’d want him for my company when I get out," He gestured at the major’s bars on his uniform, "except that Jereem would be wasted there." Rebecca nodded,
"I know what you mean, Mac." She paused, looking down out of the window towards the street, where Michael and Molly waited, hand in hand, for Michael’s ride. "Do you think they’re that serious?" Mac walked up beside her and put his arm around her. The badger looked out of the window, the city lights showing the silver in his thick black hair. Like most of his kind, Mac tended towards going gray early, which only emphasized the strength in his form. Rebecca had met him two years ago during one of her rare excursions to Louie’s, but only recently had they began to date.
"I don’t know, Rebecca. I’d say there is something there, but what it’s gonna turn into… well we were both fourteen, and you know how much things can change." Rebecca nodded.
"When Michael and Molly first got together, I really wasn’t too happy, him being a Khan…" She laughed softly, "So much for my impartial judgement…." Mac shrugged.
"You two have history… you shouldn’t be surprised that it colored your view of the kid, though I’d have to agree, he’s cut from a different cloth then old Shere." Rebecca turned around in his arms.
"Well, even Shere seems to be getting mellow in his old age… I guess he’s finding out that raising a son is a bit more difficult then running a major company." Mac laughed. They heard the elevator humming on its way back up, and Rebecca walked over to the kitchen, getting some sandwich fixings. "I’ll bet you that given how into the work they were, Molly forgot to eat dinner again… do you want one?" Mac shook his head,
"I’m still digesting the dinner."
"Mac…" Rebecca said, "Baloo asked me too… well…"
"Ask me if I’ve heard anything about Kit?" Mac shook his head. "Rebecca, I don’t even know what kit is doing, except that it’s way the hell beyond my clearance, and I’ve got a TS clearance. That being the case, Kit’s doing something that is sensitive, dangerous, and poking around could get him killed, so I’m not even gonna try." He paused, "If you want I’ll tell Baloo for you." Rebecca shook her head.
"I’ll do it… I was asking the question as much for me and Molly as I was for Baloo…. One of the tellers at the bank got a telegram about her husband." She said, only a slight tremor in her voice. Mac sighed.
"Kit’s smart," Mac said quietly, "and he doesn’t have a hero complex… he’ll do the job, whatever it is, and not stick around to try to be the hero."
"Don’t tell Baloo he’s not a hero.":
"I said he doesn’t have the herocomplex, Rebecca… but he is a hero… he just won’t go looking for opportunities to prove it, thank God." The door opened, and Rebecca, without missing a beat, turned around to Molly.
"Now, young lady… did you eat dinner?"
The next day, Molly sat in class, surrounded by the larger juniors and seniors, sweating over question #13.
"Graph the acceleration of an object, weighing twenty pounds, with forty pounds of thrust, the thrust being perpendicular to the ground. Assume normal gravity and do not consider air resistance." Molly muttered to herself, before checking the wall clock, which seemed to be moving at least twice as fast as it should. Jereem walked up to the teacher, handing in his test, and went back to his seat. Molly used all her will power to keep from glaring at him, and then pulled out another sheet of scratch paper.
Later, during the long lunch (the school was in finals, so lunch was two hours), Molly, Jereem and Hanna sat on the bench, Molly glaring at her lunch.
"I’m going to flunk that test… and what was it with all the questions? We barely spent a week on those."
"I think they were choosing questions that would require you to use everything we had learned." Jereem said.
"I’m certain you did well, Molly." Hannah said softly. Molly sighed.
"I should have stayed in algebra with you, Hannah… but I hope I passed."
"Well, I don’t have to worry about passing," Michael said, flopping down behind them. "I think the chemistry test was written by the Marquis de Sade." Molly leaned into him.
"Well, maybe we can go to summer school together."
"Why don’t’ you wait until tonight?" Jereem asked, "Mr. McCulloch is going to be grading the math test, and he said, he’d take a look at ours first, since we’re the youngest in the class." The kids nodded.
"What are you doing tonight, Molly?" Michael asked. Molly paused;
"Promise not to tell mom?"
"Does it involve, pirates, ghosts, cameras, or redfruit?" Molly shook her head.
"Then I’m silent."
"I’ve decided to volunteer."
"For coast watcher?"
"No, silly. They’ve been pulling so many nurses into the military that they need anyone they can get down at the general hospital."
"I… have a hard time seeing you in a nurses uniform." Michael said,
"Well, so do I, but most of the other jobs are… ‘Men only’, Molly said, stabbing the fork into her salad like she was eviscerating the writer of that requirement. "So I’ll do the best I can." With a toss of her head, she changed the subject. "So are we still going to have the baseball game this Saturday?"
"As far as I know," Michael said. "Jereem?"
"I’m ready." The smaller coyote said. Hannah laughed.
"And are you going to pitch again?"
"He’d better," Michael said, "Last time Jack and Molly gave up four home runs, between them."
"Well, I’m not going to mention a certain Tiger, who ran into a tree trying for a fly ball," Molly said, as everyone, including Michael laughed.
"Why don’t you want your mother to know, Molly?" Hannah asked. Molly paused.
"I’m going to tell her… but she gets worried about anything having to do with the war… This way, if I decide to stay, I can talk to her about it, and if I decide not to, there isn’t any problem." Jereem shook his head.
"You owe her more then that, Molly." The smaller coyote said. Molly cocked her head to him.
"I’m not lying to her."
"Then why are you being defensive about it…. You’re trying to box her in, so even if she didn’t want you to do it, she’d feel like she had to." Molly glared at the coyote.
"So what should I do?"
"Tell her?" Michael asked rhetorically.
"Hannah?" Molly said, turning to the other girl for support.
"I think they are right, Molly." The bearess threw up her hands in frustration.
"All right! But if I get into an argument, and can’t play on Saturday, it’s not my fault."
"Just as long as you don’t take Jereem with you," Michael said, then ducked as Molly threw a piece of sandwich at him.
When Molly got home, Rebecca was already there, working at the desk. The bearess stopped, confused.
"Hi, sweetie… How did the test go." Molly put her books on the table.
"Got An A- on the Calculus test.. and an A on the history final…. Only one more to go, tomorrow, and I can relax for Summer!" Rebecca smiled at her daughter’s enthusiasm. Molly looked at her mother. "Mom, why are you home so early."
"I closed up early, Molly. There weren’t any shipments." Molly blinked.
"It’s been that way for the last two weeks… what’s happening?"
"The war, Molly. A lot of places we can’t get to. and gas is rationed, so I can only fly a few flights anyway… and they might cut the ration more." Molly sat down, a gnawing worry eating at her.
"Is that going to…."
"No, sweetie." Rebecca smiled. "I’ve managed to lay more then enough money to see us through this, even if it goes on for a year. Besides, the banks are postponing payments on loans from businesses affected by the war." Molly noticed her mothers worried eyes, giving lie to her words. Becky shook herself, then went to the desk. "We got a letter from Kit." Molly looked up.
"We did?" She asked, "Has Baloo seen it?"
"Yes, and the one Kit sent to him…" Rebecca smiled, then frowned as she took a tattered piece of paper out. "But the censors figured out that you can see through the black out…. They’re cutting now." Molly looked at the paper. Entire sentences had been sliced out, then the remaining letter glued to a new backing sheet.
"How much did they get?" She asked.
"A lot." Rebecca said, handing the letter to her. Molly read it.
Dear Ms. Cunningham and Molly.
Everything is going well, I’m at <censored>
We should be rotated back <censored> and then I’ll <censored> anyway
Besides, we’re trying to <censored> and I think we can <censored>
Hope everything is going well for you, and don’t let Baloo get too fat to fit in the cockpit of the ‘duck.
"Wow." Molly said. "They didn’t leave much, did they?" Rebecca sighed. "No, they didn’t. Sweetie… do you mind making your own dinner tonight? Mac and I decided to go to a movie."
"I thought you were going to do that this weekend?" Molly said, puzzled.
"We might not have the chance." Rebecca said. "Mac got the notice today… his unit has to be ready to move out in twenty four hours… they could be here for a month, or they could be gone tomorrow." She finished, eyes worried.
"Oh, mom, I’m sorry." Molly said. Rebecca shook her head.
"Well, I knew it was coming,"
"Mom?" Molly asked,
"I’m going to volunteer to work down at the hospital.":
"Oh… Molly, you’re too young." Rebecca said, surprised.
"Not for just cutting bandages, and doing gopher work, I’m not." Molly paused, "Ms. Thomson said they’re pressed for help, and since it’s one of the few jobs they’ll let girls do." She took a breath, "I figure that I could give a hand."
"Why not Jereem or the others?"
"Jereem can’t… his leg wouldn’t hold up with all the walking around, even now." Molly said, "Michael has a lot of his time taken up with Shere showing him the ropes, and Hannah helps her dad at the medical office." She looked up at her mom. "That leaves me."
"Sweetie… I." Rebecca paused, "Do you know what you’re getting into?"
"I’ll be helping at a hospital." Molly said,
"You’ll be around a lot of hurt people." Molly looked at her mom.
"If nobody gets around them, they’re not likely to get any better, now are they?" Rebecca gave a smile, then looked at her daughter.
"If you want to, then do it." She shook her head. "Just…"
"Be ready, sweetie… you may see some terrible things."
Later that day, Molly found herself sitting in the entry lobby of the Cape Suzzette General hospital. She finished filling out the paperwork, then walked to the desk nurse, handing it to her. The nurse didn’t look up, just pointed down the hall.
"Ward #21, you’ll talk to the doctor there." Molly nodded, and left the nurse already forgetting the bearesses presence. Walking down the hall, she stepped back to avoid some stretchers, then came to the door. She put out her hand to open it.
"What are you doing here?" The strong, somewhat irritated voice startled her, turning around; Molly looked at a large wolf in doctor’s garb, looking at her, a sheaf of papers in one hand.
"I’m the volunteer, the nurses told me to come to ward 21." She said, looking up at him. The doctor blinked, then his eyes narrowed.
"How old are you?"
"Fourteen. Why?" He didn’t seem to hear here.
"And those idiots assigned you to the trauma and burn ward….." He walked over to the intercom on the wall, and leaned on the button. It squealed for a moment.
"Sarah, transfer the idiot on the front desk and get Cindy out of pediatrics… they sent me a kid for duty in Burn&Trauma."
"Ouch." The woman said on the other end. "I’ll change to paperwork… Doctor, Cindy will be down in about thirty minutes, if you can send the other…"
"What’s your name?" He asked Molly.
"Molly Cunningham." The kid said, beginning to swell up at his attitude.
"Molly Cunningham." He said into the intercom.
"Done." The nurse said, and the device clicked off.
"Hey!" Molly protested, "I’m not a baby… I can do the work in there."
"Well, Ms. Cunningham…. I don’t want you to… and unless you know the hospital director, that kinda ends the argument." He turned and pointed up the hallway. "If you still want to volunteer, pediatrics is that way."
"I know… I’ve been there before." Molly muttered, heading off down the corridor. Draven looked at her retreating back, tense with anger, and shrugged, going into the room for his daily rounds.
Molly walked up to pediatrics, and before she could even say anything, she was dragooned into dozens of chores, mostly boring hard work. She persevered, not wanting to be seen as a quitter. Later, the ward nurse came to her as she was stacking blankets.
"The girl in 24# could use someone to read to her…. You want to do it?"
"Sure… how old is she?"
"Five," The nurse said, "Her parents can’t come right now, and she’s pretty scared." Molly grabbed a book, actually on of the stories that her mom had read to her at that age, and walked to the room. Inside, a small raccoon was sniffling, her mood in contrast to the painted walls and stuffed animals.
"Hi," Molly said a bit uncertainly.
"Hi." The girl sniffled. "Are you a nurse?"
"Um…. Kind of a pretend nurse… they don’t let me touch any medicine, so you don’t need to worry I’m here to give you something." Molly said. The sniffles subsided somewhat. "Would you like me to read a story to you?"
"Ok." The child said. Molly walked over to her. "I don’t like this place." The girl said. "They won’t let me keep puffy." Molly blinked.
"Who is puffy?"
"My kitty cat." The girl paused, "I was on the bus, and then it fell over. Then I came here." She dropped her voice lower. "They stick needles in me." Molly smiled.
"They did that to me too, but then they let me go… so I guess it wasn’t all bad." The child giggled, coughed, then giggled again. "So what story do you want?" Molly asked. The child paused.
"My name is Jenny…. What’s yours?"
"That’s a nice name. Can you read to me about the three little pigs?" Molly laughed and found the page.
Later, she had gone through the entire book, Jenny leaning on one of her arms, which had promptly gone to sleep. She was about to start the next page when she realized that Jenny was fast asleep. It took a little work, but Molly was able to substitute a stuffed animal for her arm, and leave without waking Jenny. A nurse met her at the door.
"That was very good…. This is the first time we won’t have to give her a sleeping draught." She sighed. "Too bad her parents can’t come here, but they live in Winger city and have to work…."
"What happened?" Molly asked, The nurse looked at her.
"Drunk driver… she had a major concussion, and we had to go in and fix some internal bleeding… nothing too major, in a medical way, but pretty frightening for a little girl." She paused, "By the way, your shift ended three hours ago."
"Three hours?" Molly started, then looked out a window at the growing dusk. "I’d better get home before I have to take the bus." The nurse smiled and took the book back to the library.
By the time Molly got home, she just ate some food, and then went to bed, claiming a hard day to forestall any questions from Rebecca. Curling up in her bed, she closed her eyes, and was asleep before ten minutes had passed.
The next day, Molly sat chewing her lunch. The literature final had gone well… except that she had completely flubbed the last essay question. Still, she was confident that it would be an A… especially since the class was being graded on the curve, and had Dave and his cronies dragging that curve down.
Michael sat down beside her.
"Penny for your thoughts," He asked.
"Just wondering how Kit is doing," Molly said.
"Kit can take care of himself." Michael said. He wasn’t going to say that kit was doing fine. Molly nodded reluctantly.
"I guess you’re right." She looked over at them. "I’m going to be working until the end of the week…" Michael looked at her.
"Volunteering? How did it go?" Molly shrugged.
"Not… bad…., it’s sad though all those hurt people." She got up. "Speaking of being sad, I need to ask Ms. Thomson how I did on literature… then I can relax for the summer!" Michael laughed.
"Well, if you’re free, I have an idea that could…" Molly looked at him.
"Does it involve fruit?"
"And you’ve asked Shere if he’s involved with it?"
"He’s not." Jereem and Hannah were following the exchange between the two like spectators at a tennis match.
"So what is it?"
"With gas being rationed, we could start work for some of the messenger services… we have bikes, and in the traffic, they’re as fast as cars or motorcycles." Molly looked at him, considering…
"That actually might work." She said. "We could certainly use the money… and it seems a pretty sure thing."
"Well, more certain then the redfruit business, that’s for sure." Michael said.
"All right!" Molly said. "After vacation starts, we’ll start working on how to do it." She smiled, as Michael got up and offered his hand to her, pulling her up with ease. Jereem and Hannah stood up. Hannah smiled.
"I have to go help father with the office, and Jereem is…"
"Going to help Ms. Cunningham." Jereem said, "She seems to think my work is good enough to start me on the inventory report."
"Ugh. You’re welcome to it." Molly said. Giving the three an airy wave, she headed in to talk with Ms. Thomson.
Later, that day, Molly had returned tot he hospital, and had finished working with the Kids. Her airy manner had led to the ward nurse keeping her in the recovery ward, helping, and occasionally just talking to some of the younger children, keeping them from being overly frightened by the surroundings. Later that evening, one of the nurses, a younger, harried crane walked up to Molly.
"Could you take this to Dr. Draven in B&T?" She asked, "I have a meeting and he needs it for tonight’s examinations. Molly nodded, and stuffing the bandages she had been cutting in their containers, she grabbed the shief of paperwork and set out for B&T.
The first thing the bearess noticed was that the ward was much quieter then the children’s ward, with most of the patients either quietly reading or resting. Molly looked for Draven, but didn’t find him. She heard a tiny groan, and looked over at one of the beds, where a young wolf was laying, the pungent odor of cologne assaulting her nostrils.
Why is he wearing so much? Molly wondered. She walked over to the bed.
"Hi." She said. He looked at her without much recognition. "Is there anything I can get you?" He said nothing, then gasped as he moved slightly. Molly caught an odor under the cologne… sickly sweet, and nauseating. She bent down tucked the side of the covers in, and as she moved, caught it again.. much stronger this time. Molly walked over to a nurse.
"Ma’am?" Molly asked,
"I think there’s something wrong with the man over in bed 32."
"There’s something wrong with everyone here- but I’ll check." The nurse, a harried looking fox, said. Walking over, she smiled. "Well, sergeant, lets take a look see." When there was no response, the nurse looked concerned, and lifted the covers. There was an explosion of the nauseating smell, overwhelming the cologne. Molly gasped at the wrapped leg, fluid seeping through the soaked bandages. The nurse ran to the intercom, and in moments, Draven was there. He took a look at the leg, opening the bandages up. Molly turned her head, afraid that she was going to throw up.
"Nurse, get the operating room prepared, it’s gonna have to come-oof!" The man started screaming inarticulately, the words somehow penetrating his pain fogged brain. One flailing fist caught Draven in the stomach, and the other caught the nurse in the jaw, sending her too the floor. Draven came back up. "Don’t let him tear the bandages any more! Orderly… ORDERLY!!" he shouted. Molly leaped to the other side of the bed and latched on to the man’s other arm. Whether because she was a kid, or because he was too weak to continue fighting, he didn’t smash her the way he had the nurse, but it took all her weight to control the one arm. Soon, two orderlies arrived, and between them, the burly men managed to hold the man down until Draven took a hypo of Morphine and injected the man. Without saying a thing to Molly, he directed the men in placing the patient onto a gurney, and took off for the operating room.
Molly was sitting in the hospital cafeteria, pushing some food around a plate. The incident had shaken her badly, her hands shaking a little. A shadow fell over the table, and she looked up and saw Draven standing over her, his blues stained with sweat. He sat down, holding a cup of coffee, face slightly pale.
"That was… very good of you, kid." He said, "The guy had developed necrosis of the limb. It moves fast, and between the number of people, and the cologne he wore, well, by the time the nurse would have come around again, it would have been to late."
"Why-why did he wear the cologne?" Draven shrugged.
"He’s a wanna be football star… he figured that if nobody realized it was getting worse, he could work through the pain and keep the leg."
"Had to take it off at the hip…. Two more hours, maybe less and it would of gotten into the main body and well…. That would have been all she wrote." He blinked, exhaustion on his face.
"But he can’t play football, and he only has one leg so…" Molly said, almost to herself.
"What can he do?" Draven asked, "Right now he thinks his life is over, and in the football world, at least, it is. But that won’t stop him from being a father, or a teacher, or a doctor… and it’s my job to give him the opportunity." He stood up, swaying a little. "Well, time to check the rest of the wards."
"Shouldn’t you get some rest?" Molly asked, Draven laughed.
"Girl, I’ve got fifty patients, most of whom would have a single doctor assigned to their case in peacetime... sleep is not an option until I finish my duty." He looked at her hands. "I figured you might be a little shook up, so I called your mom to pick you up."
"Mom!" Molly squeaked… that wasn’t needed. Draven smiled.
"You’ve had a rocky time of it, and your mom should know… not find out later." He paused, "You might not realize it, but in this job you do pick up a certain amount of knowledge about people… you’re firmly in the ‘I can do it myself ,’ camp." Shaking his head, he turned and left, saying in passing. "And that means that us who have tried that stunt need to save your from our folly. She’s waiting in the lobby." Molly got up and put her food away and walked to the lobby.
Rebecca was waiting for her in the lobby. Molly walked up to her.
"Hard day?" Rebecca asked.
"Not for me." Molly said, then walked out with her. Getting into the Taxi, Molly sat quietly for several minutes, then turned to Rebecca. "Mom…. How long do you think the war is going to go on?" Rebecca considered for several minutes.
"A while, honey…. I don’t think that people are right when they say it will be over by Christmas." Molly sat quietly.
"And Kit?" She finally asked.
"Kit’s smart Molly… but yes, he might die… we just have to pray that he keeps safe. Besides," Rebecca said, "The air commandos haven’t been deployed yet, so Kit isn’t in any real danger." Molly quietly nodded, and spent the rest of the trip home in silence.
Saturday, Michael showed up with a raft of receipt book forms, several saddlebags, and a list of companies who might need a messenger or courier service. Molly was impressed, perched on the edge or Rebecca’s desk.
"You’ve come prepared."
"Well…. I’m not going to have another redfruit fiasco." The tiger said. Molly laughed.
"It wasn’t a fiasco… we just lost our shirts." Michael smiled back
"I hope you don’t mean you thought it was a success?"
"Mom did say it was a learning experience."
"It was that." Michael shook his head.
"Anyway, These bags came out of the old property room, and nobody wanted them, and yes I did get granduncles approval." Molly grinned at Michael.
"Afraid he’s going to decide to charge you for them?"
"Well… yes." Michael got a receipt book. "We can get started tomorrow, if you want." Molly nodded,
"Why not, I’m not doing anything." Molly said, "Besides, we have to beat your friends at baseball today…" Laughing the two kids left the office.
The next day, Molly and Michael were making the rounds, trying to drum up some business.
"I cannot believe that you gave up two home runs, Michael." Molly said. Michael frowned at her.
"I was not going to mention a certain young lady bearess who managed to miss a popfly, struck out twice, and then tripped on her way to home plate."
"Hey, you saw the root!"
"Yes… everyone saw the root, so why did you trip on it?" Michael asked, then smoothed his face as they entered a small store. Molly looked at the storefront, with "Stan’s Books" on the side.
Why would this fellow need a courier? She thought. Michael walked up to the front desk, and waited until the owner, a rather fat polar bear, finished with the last customer.
"Yeah?" He asked. "What can I do f’ya?"
"We’re running a messenger and Delivery service, sir… and I was wondering if you could use some help in that area." Michael said in his best salesman voice. Stan grinned.
"Delivery boys… and girls, eh? Well, I can use your help, sure." He walked back into the room, and came out with several boxes. "We deliver to shut ins, and other people who can’t get out…. This gas rationing has been killing my business." He paused, and lit a cigar. "Now… how much do’ya want?" Michael thought for a moment, then pulled out a receipt book and listed a figure.
"Pretty expensive…." Stan said. "In fact, real expensive."
"Less then the cost of gas." Michael countered. "In fact, less then two thirds of what it would cost you… to say nothing of lost time."
"Yeah, but I know I can get it done… how do I know that you won’t dump my books in a park and go have fun at the penny arcades?" Molly started to speak, but Michael cut her off with a motion of his hand.
"Because if we do that to you, then nobody will hire us again…. I don’t have fun today, at the cost of tomorrow. Besides," he said, pointing to the receipt, "It specifies payment on successful delivery of services, including a signed form confirming delivery." Stan shifted the cigar in his mouth, blowing out a noxious cloud of smoke.
"Hmph." He said, taking the receipt and looking at it. "How about this, I’ll pay you… this much." He named a lower figure, "and a bonus on books delivered per day… If you clear out my back stock in less then three days, you make more then you would getting paid your rate… that is if you think you can do it." Michael tried to unobtrusively get a look in the back room. Stan laughed. "Don’t worry, kid. I don’t cheat people, and you can clear the stock out in three days… as well as pick up tips from the customers." Molly brightened, and Michael stuck out his hand. Stan took it. "OK, kids…. Here’s your first list of places." He finished getting a list from behind the desk.
Ten minutes later, Molly was outside his store, weighted down by twenty pounds of books, with Michael on the bike next to her, with thirty. Michael set off down the street.
"Michael…. Michael Khan!" Molly yelled, heading after him. "The houses are this way!"
"Yes, but the tram is this way." Molly came screeching to a halt, and put her hands on her hips.
"Michael…. The tram won’t go anywhere near where we have to go." Michael turned and smiled at her.
"But it will insure that we only have to go down hill. Trust me, even if it’s a few miles more, we will save time if those miles are down hill. We’ll save even more time when you consider the rest periods it will give us." Molly, still on the bike, put her hands on her hips.
"And the money the tickets will cost?"
"Not that much, and in this case I think it’s money well spent. That is, unless you want to ride better then 10 miles a day up a 20 degree slope?" Molly laughed, and started bicycling towards the stop.
"Nope… but they is one thing you don’t know." She called behind her.
"What’s that?" Michael asked, following her.
"The last one to the stop pays for both tickets." Molly shouted, starting to pedal off at full speed.
Molly bicycled down the street, watching for traffic. This section of town was one she had never been in before, and she tried to keep track of the numbers. After the first deliveries, Michael and her had split up, the tiger confidant that she understood his record system. She braked to a halt next to a small apartment building, and walked up to the door, her last package under her arm. She walked up the stairs, and knocked on the door of apartment 221. The door opened and a shapely, fit rabbit emerged, clad in a striped navy T-shirt and jeans. Molly figured that she was about eighteen.
"Hi, Kid… what’s going on." Molly held up the box.
"I’ve got a package for a… Terri Conners?" Molly said. Terri grabbed the package, and unwrapped it. She practically squealed in delight. Molly looked at the book then blinked… it was a navigation book of the Alation highlands.
"You fly?" Molly asked, surprised.
"Sure do… have my own plane." Molly looked envious, and Terri must have caught on. "You want to be a pilot?"
"I can fly… but I don’t’ have a license yet," Molly said. "My mom owns H&H." The rabbit raised her eyebrows.
"You’re the kid that blew up Khannies gunship." She said. Molly reddened.
"I didn’t blow it up… it just crashed."
"Yeah," the Rabbit laughed. "If that’s the story you want." Molly frowned, then realized that there was no bite in Terri’s words.
"It’s pretty hot," Terri continued, "You want a soda?"
"Um… sure!" Molly answered. The rabbit vanished back into the room, and came out with two sodas.
"I’d invite you in, but the room’s an oven right now." She said, "Let’s head out to the front." Molly looked at the sun.
"I should be going…"
"Unless you have more boxes, this is your last delivery… a few minutes won’t’ kill you." Molly went with Terri, sitting down on the chairs in the front.
"Why are you staying here? Baloo says that most pilots like staying with their planes." Terri laughed.
"My planes a bit small to live in…. and it’s getting worked on. I’m…. making a delivery to here," She said pointing at the book. "and I wanted to be rested up." Molly looked at her.
You mean your smuggling something either in or out of there. The bearess thought. If the plane was too small to pitch a bunk in, it was too small to make a profit on legal cargoes. Abruptly, her chain of thought was broken by the sound of … her bicycle!? Molly looked up just in time to see a teenager take mer bike and move off down the road.
"HEY!!! STOP!!" An upthrust middle finger greeted her yell. She ran out to chase after him, but a strong hand on her suspenders stopped her.
"You can’t catch him that way," Terri said, "C’mon" She said, leading Molly around to a small garage. Terri opened the door and quickly rolled out a motorcycle with a sidecar. "Coming?" She asked, and Molly hopped in the car. With a quick motion, the rabbit started the engine, and the motorcycle rocketed off down the road.
Molly slitted her eyes against the wind, as Terri accelerated, bringing the thief into view. He looked back, and Molly got a glimpse of an unpleasant face, rather familiar, as Terri drew closer. Then the biker turned into a garbage-choked alley
"Hang on!" Terri shouted as she went in after him, dodging bundles and piles of junk. Molly ducked under a fire-escape ladder, and then they were out of the alley, the wind roaring in her ears, as they headed down a one way street… the wrong way. Fortunately, there were only two cars on the road, and Terri avoided both of them. The rider and Terri both had to slow up at the corner, and Molly saw her chance. Diving from the sidecar, she tackled the rider, and brought him to the ground, the bike tangling him up. The infuriated bearess dragged him to his feet, and slammed him against a wall. The slovenly badger shook trying to force her off, and then Molly realized who it was.
"Dave?" She looked at him, then snarled and brought her knee up between his legs with a dull thud. Even as he was bending over she got ready to do it again if he tried to fight. Terri winced.
"Kiddo… don’t you think he’s had enough?" Molly let Dave go, as the badger fell to the ground, sobbing. She drew back her foot to kick him again, then shrugged, and walked over to her bike.
"Dave…." Molly said, "I don’t need Michael to handle you, and if you ever try something like this again, I’ll hang you by your toes from the school flagpole." She looked at Terri. "I… I need to get back to the store… Thank you." Terri laughed.
"I haven’t had this much fun in a while." She handed Molly a five-dollar bill. "Here you go, Molly…. Price of admission. CYA." She kicked the bike into motion, and moved off towards her apartment. Molly looked down at Dave, then rode off herself, not bothering to look back.
When Molly got back to the store, Stan was happy enough to see them and gave them a bonus.
"Gotta admit… didn’t expect that you would get finished with all this stuff so quickly, and I’ve already had a call from some of my customers… you know your business, kids." He said, as he chomped on the ever-present cigar. Michael looked over at Molly, wondering why she was so happy. Molly grinned at him.
"I’ll tell you later." She said. One the way back, Michael finished counting their profits for the day, and grinned.
"And this time, no redfruit fiasco." Molly laughed, as she finished putting the bike in H&H’s warehouse. Michael nodded.
"And no redfruit fiasco." He said. "Though it wasn’t much of a fiasco." Molly looked at him, raising her eyebrows. "We got some work done, and everything we did worked… except I didn’t think that others would have the same idea… or do it as thoroughly as Shere did." He continued, "still, it was an interesting time…. Though I’m happy to be making money this time. Thank you for helping on this, Molly." He said, putting one arm around Molly’s shoulders. The bearess leaned into Michael, a bit tired, and settled into the crook of his arm.
"I met Dave today… he tried to steal my bike." Michael blinked.
"What happened?" Molly told him. Midway through her story Michael winced. Molly grinned. "Well, all he had to do to avoid it was to not steal my bike." She laughed, "Besides, it got me a five dollar tip… I hope I see Terri sometime later, she’s pretty interesting." Michael pulled her in close.
"Well, she wasn’t the one that dove off the motorcycle…you could have been hurt, you know." Molly shrugged, not moving out of the circle of Michael’s arm.
"I know how to fall… and I don’t like it when people steal from me." She looked up at Michael, blue eyes meeting green eyes. "But thanks for thinking about that….’ Michael coughed.
"Well it would leave me to make ALL the deliveries." Molly mock punched him in the gut, and Michael laughed and mock-doubled over. Laughing, the two kids made their way into the office, where Rebecca waited to take Michael and Molly to their respective homes.
END OF PART ONE
The next several days fell into a comfortable rhythm. Molly would make deliveries in the morning, work at the hospital in the afternoon, and then spend the evening with Jereem, Michael and Hannah.
One evening, working in the old shed out behind the H&H building, the kids worked on a short-wave radio, trying to get it working. Molly frowned, looking at the inside.
"This thing hasn’t been cleaned since it was made…. I’ll get the air compressor." The bearess said, walking out of the shed. Meanwhile Michael came walking in, his arms full of valves (vacuum tubes).
"How did you get those?" Molly asked.
"Granduncles business." Michael said, "half the tubes they downcheck work, and it would cost more money to recover them then it would to just dump them."
"I hope that someday mom has that kind of problem." The bearess said over her shoulder. Michael raised his eyebrows… that had been a little more waspish then he had expected. He looked over at Jereem and Hannah, the coyote showing his girlfriend the calculations he ad worked out to make the antenna most effective for picking up short wave.
"And this is what we need to damp out interference, else every time some one starts an engine, we’ll lose the signal- hello Michael." Jereem said.
"Did you hear that?" Michael asked.
"Oh…" Hannah paused, "Michael, Ms. Cunningham is having to take a small loan to pay off her bills, given the fall off in trade… Molly’s a bit sensitive about it." Michael looked after the other girl.
"I didn’t know… she didn’t tell me." Jereem looked up.
"She didn’t tell us, either, but I’m…"
"The accountant, I know." Michael said. He refrained from asking anything else. Jereem probably didn’t want to say anything more, and Michael wasn’t about to try to bully his friend into telling it. Molly came back with the hose trailing behind her, and turned the valve, beginning to remove the dust from the interior of the radio.
"Sorry about that, Michael… it’s been a long day, and I don’t think we’re going to get this thing to work without completely taking it apart," She said, coughing as the clouds of dust enshrouded her. Michael used a cloth to keep the dust from settling on the tubes he had brought. Molly closed the air hoses valve, and then pulled the racks of burned out vacuum tubes. Taking a tester out, she began to plug in the vacuum tubes and run the test on the bench-mounted tester. Michael looked at Jereem.
"So, do you have the antenna cables ready?" Jereem nodded, holding up several complex wire and wood assemblies. Michael held out his hands.
"If you’ll hold the ladder, I’ll mount it…" He grinned. "Just don’t let the ladder fall…"
"Don’t worry," Jereem said, "I spent all day on that antenna."
Finally, with an exclamation of joy, Molly finished plugging in the last tube. Hannah looked at her.
"I’ve got it finished!" Molly leaned out of the window. "Jereem! Michael! Is everything ready?" The two, Michael standing on the ladder up the lattice antenna, just behind the H&H building, waved and nodded. Molly turned on the radio, deftly turning the frequency control until she came to the frequency she had been searching for. Molly listened for several minutes, growing irritated, as she heard nothing but the hiss of static. Glaring at the radio, she muttered and checked connections.
"I cannot figure… maybe a bad connection? Michael! I’m coming up!" She called, as she ran over to the ladder and swarmed up it, setting it to shaking.
"Hey! Molly, watch it! " Michael said, alarmed.
"Don’t worry… There you are." Molly said, looking at one section of the wire. "The splice is bad…" She said, pulling out her tool kit and leaning out.
"Molly…. We can take it down…"
"That’ll take the rest of the day." Molly said, "I’m not gonna wait."
"Molly!" Michael said, as Jereem hung on to the bottom of the ladder for dear life. Baloo, working over with Wildcat, saw the commotion.
"Now what’re those kids doing fooling around like that on the ladder?" The bear asked,
"Maybe it’s lonely and wanted to play to?" Wildcat answered, seriously. Baloo dropped the tool he had been using.
"Hang on, Wildcat. Shortstuff!" Baloo called, "You know better’n that! I-" Molly, finishing up with the cable, looked over a Baloo at the same time she was putting her toolkit back. Suddenly under Michael and Molly’s weight the ladder swayed again, and Molly realizing that now she had neither hand on it, tried to grab it, failed, and lost her balance.
"I-yowww!" She cried out as she fell off the ladder. Michael grabbed for her, got her by one hand, and then lost his own balance, falling down after her, bouncing painfully off the ladder. Molly landed even harder, on her feet, then gasped and fell over, holding one ankle. Baloo amazingly for someone his size, almost teleported to them.
"You kids ok?" the older bear asked looking at Michael, who was dusting himself off. Michael got up and he, Jereem and Baloo looked over at Molly, who was pounding the dirt with her fist.
"Stupid, Stupid, STUPID!" She gasp/snarled, while she held her ankle with her other hand. She tried to get up and gave a cry of pain. Michael ran to her side.
"Maybe you should stay here," The tiger asked in concern. Molly looked at him, face strained.
"And what? I’m ok, my ankle just hurts a little." She said, then gasped as she tried to put some weight on it. The larger Tiger supported her, putting his arm around her. Baloo started to help, then paused, and let Michael take the lead.
"I’ll get the door, Michael." Baloo said, "Pigtails, that wasn’t real smart."
"Trust me, right now I know." Molly said. Jereem put the ladder down and then he and Hannah followed the other three. Once inside the office, Rebecca being gone on a business lunch, Molly sank into the couch with a sigh. Baloo went back and got some ice. Hannah walked up to the bearess and knelt down looking at the ankle.
"You learn some things with a doctor for a father." Hannah said. She reached out and began to probe the girl’s ankle. Molly gasped after a moment.
"Hannah, that hurts!"
"Can you move it?" Hannah asked, and then, as Molly moved it, made a few quick motions.
"OUCH!" Molly yelled, involuntarily. Hannah got up.
"You are lucky, Molly." The coyote said, "It is not broken, and not even sprained, I do not think… It could have easily been broken…"
"I know, I know… it was dumb, Molly said, gratefully accepting the ice Baloo had wrapped in a cloth and letting Michael apply it to her ankle. The icy cold seemed to pull some of the sting out of it. "What do we do for tomorrow’s deliveries?"
"I can take it, if your ankle is still hurting, Molly." Michael said.
"It won’t be… but thanks." Molly said. Baloo grinned.
"Not to change the subject, Pigtails, but did you finished what you were doing?"
"Yeah, the wire’s fixed." Baloo grinned and walked out, returning with the fifty-pound radio balanced easily on one shoulder. Putting it next to H&H’s two-way rig, he plugged it in and then re-connected the antenna leads. With a flourish, he turned it on, and gestured to the kids.
"Now you can listen to it here, where it’s cooler then it is in that oven back there." Molly leaned forward, as the set warmed up, then she sighed in relief as the voice came through, staticky but understandable.
"This is Edward R. Murrow, speaking to you from London, where the Blitz is raging…." The four leaned forward, Molly forgetting about the ache, as the rebuilt radio carried the famous voice from half a world away.
The next day, Molly and Michael were riding on the tram, taking it to the top of the hill where they would make all of their deliveries while going back down the hill. Michael was hanging onto a strap, as was molly, making room for the older and much younger riders of the tram.
"Are you ok?" Michael asked Molly, looking at her ankle.
"I’m fine, Michael." Molly said, "It just twinges a bit if I walk on it too much." She paused, "Be glad that Baloo didn’t tell Mom, or I wouldn’t be helping at all." Michael nodded, as the tram jerked to a stop, then helped Molly out of it, setting up the bikes and packages.
"After we finish delivering… do you want to get some lunch? I’ve got the money." He said, Molly looked up.
"Sure… the same place?" Michael shook his head,
"I’ve had about as many hotdog stand lunches as I can take… how about the café on 12th?" Molly grinned.
"OK!" She said, then hopped on her bike. "When?"
"12:30…" Michael said, getting on his bike, then waved at her as he pedaled off. Molly started off on her own route, working extra fast to get finished in time. By the time she had made the last delivery, her ankle throbbed, and she gratefully coasted down the street to the café. Michael was already there, looking worried.
"I’ m only five minutes late." Molly said, as she swung off the bike, opposite from the way she normally did. Michael noticed that.
"Is your ankle giving you trouble?" He asked in concern. Molly gave a frown.
"It just hurts a bit Michael…. I’ve been getting dings like that ever since I was five."
"And you still live?" Michael asked, then shielded himself from her glare as he chained their bikes up to the rack. With the gas rationing, Dave had not been the only bike thief at large, and Michael and Molly’s bikes were both attractive targets. They walked into the cool interior of the café. After sitting at one of the booths Michael and Molly waited until the waitress, an attractive young lady, walked up to them.
"Can I take you orders?" She asked. Molly gave her order, then waited while Michael gave his. The waitress smiled, and then winked at Michael as she took their menus.
"Have you been here before?" Molly asked, just a tiny edge in her voice.
"Well, no, but I’ll be certain to come here later." Molly started to glare then saw the twinkle in Michael’s eyes. She laughed, accepting the joke.
"How did you deliveries go?" Molly asked.
"Pretty good, except for the Britannica set… that was a problem."
"No… the fellow who ordered it lived on the sixth story and the elevator was out." Molly winced.
"Ouch." She said. Michael paused, looked at her then back at the bikes outside the window.
"Molly…." He trailed off. Molly looked at him in some surprise.
"Grand uncles having a party two weeks from this Saturday… would you like to come with me?" He finished in a near rush. Molly blinked, then said nothing for a few seconds. Michael began to sweat.
"Well… Yes!" Molly said enthusiastically, "Where is it at… Clarksdale's, The Steak house?" Michael took one of her hands in his.
"It’s at… well, It’s at the Grande Royale Hotel…." Molly said nothing, then her hand clenched around his, hard.
"The Royale?" She said, disbelievingly. "Except for you, I don’t know anyone who’s ever even stayed there, it’s so ritzy."
"You know granduncle." Michel said. "If you don’t want to go, we could just hit the amusement park then…" Molly lay her other hand on his.
"No…" Molly said, softer then she normally spoke. "I’d like to go there… a lot." Neither kid said anything for several seconds, and then Michael cleared his throat, a little uncomfortably.
"Well then… I’ll tell granduncle, and you tell your mother, and it will be all set." He smiled, as the meal came back, the waitress putting it in place with practiced grace. Michael and Molly finished lunch, talking about the other things that might happen that summer. By mutual agreement, now that Molly had agreed, neither mentioned the ball.
After saying goodbye to Michael, Molly rode her bike back to the apartment, locking it up in the garage, then taking the elevator before bounding into the apartment. She stopped dead in her tracks as she saw Rebecca sitting at the table, wearing a robe, rubbing her eyes as she looked at the newspaper.
"Mom?" Molly asked, "Is something wrong?"
"Oh, no honey… I’m just worn out and I decided to call it an early night today." Rebecca got up and walked towards her bedroom. "Do you mind if I don’t make dinner tonight."
"No… you get some sleep mom." Molly paused, "Do you want me to call you when I make my dinner?"
"No, I’ll just have a bigger breakfast tomorrow." Rebecca headed back to her room, and when Molly looked in twenty minutes later, she was dead asleep.
Molly walked back to the table and noticed Rebecca’s purse sitting on the table, a sheaf of papers poking out. She convinced herself that it would be a good idea to file them for her mother, as she took them out of the purse.
She really didn’t mean to read them, but the bank name on the paper caught her attention, and she looked closer. Denials. They were all refusals for loan applications, even insurance…"due to the war" one read. Lastly, there was a financial statement, written out in Jereem’s precise handwriting. Molly sat down, feeling punched in the gut as she looked at it. If Jereem was right… they only had enough money to pay the bills for a few more months, at most. A stir from Rebecca’s room caused her to quickly shove the papers back in the purse and go to the kitchen, making her dinner, even though she was no longer hungry.
Afterwards, she got the phone and sitting where she could see down the hall to mom’s bedroom, placed a call.
"Molly?" Michael’s voice answered. "It is kind of late.. Is something wrong?"
"Ummm…" Now that she had him on the phone; Molly really didn’t know what to say. "It’s nothing, really… I just wanted to ask you how your Ganduncle's business is doing." One the other end, Michael blinked.
"About as well as can be expected… shipping’s fallen off, except for military but…" Something clicked in his head. "Molly, is something wrong with Higher For Hire?"
"Well… Mom wasn’t able to get the loans." Molly said, "But it’s really nothing big, we’ll just have to tighten our belts… I think I’m going to give my share of the money we make to Mom, just in case…" A stir from the bedroom came to her ears, "Anyway, gotta go, cya tomorrow!" She hung up quickly. Michael sat in his room, looking at the phone. Molly didn’t lie worth a damn, he thought.
"Tighten our belts my eye…" He muttered, then placed a call to Jereem’s house. If anyone would know, it would be Ms. Cunningham’s part time accountant, he thought. He waited until Jereem’s chipper voice came on the phone, and smiled at the sound of Hannah in the background, chatting with Jereem’s mother.
"Yes, Michael?" Jereem asked.
"How is H&H doing?" Michael asked bluntly, then explained Molly’s odd phone call.
"Not well, Michael." Jereem quietly said. He paused, "Don’t ask me to tell you anymore though… Ms. Cunningham asked me to keep the particulars to myself." Michael unconsciously nodded.
"You don’t have to… owners of healthy companies don’t tell their workers to keep quiet. Thanks." He paused. "Say Hello to Hannah and your mother for me…. And don’t forget the final game of the month is this Saturday."
"How could I?" Jereem asked. "I have a petition from the other members to show up, so you don’t pitch." Michael laughed and said goodbye. Looking at the phone, he looked up at the clock. Yes, he would still be at work, the tiger thought, getting up.
Michael walked up to Shere’s desk and waited until Khan got off the phone. He wasn’t certain how to approach Shere, but interrupting a phone call wasn’t the way to begin. For that matter, he wasn’t even certain what he wanted… Jereem had given him the information, but not what to do with it.
"Minister, I am fully aware of the tax problem, but is the Aleminian's win this war then you will not have to worry about taxes, unless heaven has them…. Yes…. Good day." Khan sighed as he hung up the phone. "May I help you Michael? Oh, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, your courier business is not only a good idea, you are operating it efficiently and very cleverly… you have my admiration." Michael blinked. Coming from Shere Khan, that was as good as a marching band with dancers.
"Thank you grand uncle."
"You do not need to thank me, Michael… you and your friends deserve all the credit."
"That is why I’m here uncle." Shere raised his eyes.
"Ms. Cunningham’s business is on the verge of failing." Michael quietly said.
"Many of the independent contractors are, Michael, the war has made it impossible for them to work."
"Yes and well… I was wondering."
"If you are asking if I would give them a loan, no. Besides, think about Ms. Cunningham… how do you think she would react to charity like that." Michael hadn’t thought about that… he had only been trying to give Ms. Cunningham and Molly a hand. Now, Khan calmly watched his grandnephew turn slightly pale…
"You must consider your actions, Michael." Khan said, "Ms. Cunningham is proud, and jealous of her independence."
"Even if it sends the company out of business?" Michael asked.
"To accept a loan from me would turn the company into my business, in fact that is what she would suspect me of. Previously, she would be right." Michael paced, frustrated.
"But… if she goes out of business…" He turned to Shere and asked him, point blank. "How would you help them?" Shere steepled his fingers.
"I am not certain…"
"Is there anyway H&H could make a profit right now?"
"While the war continues… no." Shere said, "Afterwards… yes. I expect a tremendous boom in air traffic, presuming we win." He paused, then thought for several moments. "I will consider this, Michael… there might be a way, but I will have to make inquiries…" He nodded to his grandnephew.
"Thank you," Michael said, getting up and leaving. "I really appreciate this." Shere looked up and gave a tiny, almost non-existent smile.
"Remember, that you have to make an appearance at the ball… I know you generally don’t like to come, but this time it is a necessity." Michael nodded, then blinked once, thinking hard.
"I… was thinking of bringing a friend, granduncle."
"Perhaps a certain female bear?" Khan asked.
"Um… yes." Michael said.
"I believe Ms. Cunningham is already spoken for." Shere said. Michael looked at him, then responded.
"Molly Cunningham, granduncle."
"Oh… My mistake. I will call the tailor and make arrangements for both of you." Michael waved and left the room. Outside, he stopped in the middle of the hall.
"I think Shere Khan just tried to make a joke…." He looked out of the window. "Nope, couldn’t be… I don’t see the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. "
Saturday, Michael and the others, as usual, went to the athletic field to play baseball. Molly made no mention of last nights phone call, and Michael respected it. Rebecca watched them pedal off, and then sat down in front of the business, sighing. She looked at the Seaduck, bobbing at the pier, they empty warehouse, and the loading dock, bare except for a smattering of cargo, so small that the gas would cost more then the pay. Still, she would deliver it. She tiredly ran one hand through her thick auburn hair. Lately it had been harder and harder to get the energy to come in. Worrying about Kit, and the fact that there was just no business, and no plan of hers could change that fact had drained her of energy.
The sound of a car caused her to look up, as a SK limo pulled up to the curb. Michael’s normal chauffeur got out, and walked over.
"Oh, Samson, you just missed Michael," Rebecca said.
"Mr. Khan asked that I bring you to a meeting with him," The chauffeur said. Rebecca blinked.
"About what?" He shrugged.
"Don’t know… but he’ll tell you himself." He finished opening the door for her. Rebecca got in and sat down, bemused. Too her surprise, the car didn’t go to Khan towers, instead driving around the periphery of the bay, to a region of new construction, the earth raw and slashed from earth moving equipment. Rebecca got out, and accepted the offered hard hat. Samson pointed over to where Khan, surrounded by a group of flunkies was going over blueprints.
"Ahh, Ms. Cunningham." He said as she walked up with him. "Happy you could make it." A tiny wave of his hand scattered his flunkies.
"Why am I here?" Rebecca asked.
"H&H is going out of business." Khan quietly said, once they were alone. Rebecca blinked.
"Did you grand nephew find out that fact?"
"I have other sources of information… I do not need to enlist Michael." Khan said. "And whatever you might think, in this case it does not make me happy." Rebecca put her hands on her hips.
"Oh really? Why not… I can’t remember a time when you weren’t trying to get a hold on Cape Suzette’s business." Khan raised his eyebrow.
"We are fighting a war, Ms. Cunningham… and anything that damages our economy is damaging my interests." He paused, "While other owners can find employment, in your case a regrettable sexism has come to play." Rebecca didn’t contest that. For all of Shere’s faults, his company had been one of the few where a woman could rise to positions higher then "glorified secretary". Shere continued. "I take your search for possible employment has not gone well?"
+How did he-?+
"No, it hasn’t," she said. Khan nodded, then turned to the half-complete complex.
"When finished, this complex will manufacture seaplane fighters and bombers, using jet engines and other new technology… we will be able to base them on the ocean, from small ships, even from lakes and streams… instead of large aircraft carriers and airbases." He turned back to her. "I have not been able to find anyone to manage this establishment. Either they are experienced in planes, with no experience in management, or they are managers with no practical experience in planes…. I believe that you have both those qualifications, though." It took Rebecca several minutes to realize what Khan was saying.
"You want me to work for you?"
"Primarily our country, and only temporarily…. I am prepared to use my influence with the various banks to get all of H&H’s debts postponed until after the war, when you should be able pay them off handily." Becky paused, thinking.
"No catches?" A ghost of a smile played around Khan’s face.
"In this case, Ms. Cunningham, I promise you that there are no catches, either in what I’ve said, or what I have not said. What you see is what you get." Rebecca looked around the complex, seeing the work crews bustling back and forth.
"How long will it be before it’s ready?"
"Not long," Khan said, "Maybe a month at the outside… barely enough time for you to get acquainted with the project." He continued, gesturing to several thick bundles of paper on a table. "Mr. Baloo and… Wildcat are also welcome…we will need pilots to ferry the planes, and I have it on good authority that Wildcat’s skill may come in handy at solving some of the thornier problems… as long as other mechanics go over his work to make it more… conventional." Rebecca nodded, then turned to Khan.
"Alright. I accept." She said. Khan gravely took her hand and shook it.
"Also, Ms. Cunningham. Michael has invited Molly to the Royale ball." That caused Rebecca to blink. She had lost track of how many times she had tried to get in. Then she winced. There was no way she could afford to get Molly clothes that wouldn’t humiliate her and so-"I’ve scheduled her fitting for the Thursday before the Ball, at 4:00 PM, if that would be acceptable to you." Rebecca looked up, then nodded.
"Yes. Thank you,"
"There is no need. Both as his guardian, and on a personal level, I am thankful for Molly, Hannah, and Jereem’s friendship with Michael." Khan paused, "Good day, Ms. Cunningham." Rebecca thanked him and left her mind in a whirl as she was driven back to H&H.
"So Beckers… what’s ole Khanny want?" Baloo said, as he polished off lunch, his feet propped up on her desk. Rebecca sat down in the easy chair, looked at Baloo and said.
"He’s hired me." That was enough to cause the five-ply salami, pastrami and beef sandwich to go down the wrong way, and it took Baloo several minutes of coughing before he could say anything.
"I suppose you told him where to take it?"
"No, I accepted his offer, Baloo… you know we don’t have much choice… and I trust him, this time."
"Oh?" The older bear shot back, "and why is that?"
"Because he came right out and said that this wasn’t part of any plot or plan, Baloo. You know how Khan is about his word." Baloo nodded, thinking.
"Ya got that right, Beckers. I may not like ‘em that much, but he does have a thing about going back on his word. What’s the job?"
"Managing that new complex across the bay."
"And H&H?" Baloo asked, looking closely.
"He’ll hold off the bill collectors until after the war." Rebecca said with relief. "He also mentioned that you and Wildcat can join up… we’ll need ferry pilots."
"OK Beckers… you’re still the boss." Baloo said, jumping up to go give wildcat the news. Becky smiled. Ever since the war had begun, Baloo had been champing at the bit to get involved somehow. To Rebecca’s great thankfulness, and his frustration, the War Department had disallowed him on the basis of age and education. Now he could give a hand, without being close to the fighting, God willing. Smiling, Rebecca went over to her desk and began working on the paperwork, which right now didn’t seem nearly as tiring as it had yesterday.
At the park, things weren’t going quite so smoothly.
"What was that Molly!!??" Michael asked as Molly came stalking back from the plate. The bearess glared at Michael.
"Well, it would have been easier is somebody right behind me hadn’t been playing ‘air traffic controller’" She said, "’higher, no lower, to the right!’ I know how to hit a ball, Michael." She finished, flopping down on the bench. Jereem looked at them both, then hefted his bat, and walked over to the plate.
"Bases loaded, two outs, and Jereem’s up to bat…" Michael murmured. "We need a homer, and Jereem usually gets a single, or double at best." Hannah blinked at the tiger.
"Jereem will do it." She said.
"Hannah… Michael’s not saying anything about Jereem… his pitching is the reason we aren’t further behind then we are." Molly said.
"OK." Hannah continued the phrase still slightly awkward. "If Jereem gets a homer, then you owe him and me lunch… at Kelly’s." She finished, naming a slightly expensive diner on the waterfront. Michael prepared to open his mouth to ask what they would get if Jereem failed then shut it as Molly elbowed him. The crack of the bat hitting the ball pulled all their gazes back to the field… just in time to see the ball vanish over the fence. In unison, Molly and Michael looked over at Hannah. "He has been practicing." She said in satisfaction.
Later, at Kelly’s, Michael reflected that at least Jereem and Hannah weren’t big eaters…. and the diner was a nice change for a Saturday afternoon. Jereem finished his hamburger then looked over at Michael and Molly.
"Thank you for this, but it really wasn’t needed."
"Yes. It was." Molly said. "Apart from the bet, you saved us from having to listen to Greg’s crowing." She pushed her cheeks out and began to flap her arms up and down in passable imitation of the other kid. The other three burst into laughter. "Laugh now." Molly continued, "But last year we had to throw him in the city pool before he stopped rubbing it in." Michael winced.
"You’re right, I’d forgotten about that."
"So, Jereem and I were thinking of going to the amusement park on the 14th… do you want to come?" Molly looked at Michael, then replied.
"We’re going… well we’re going somewhere else that day." Jereem looked at them then snapped his fingers.
"The Royale?" He asked.
"Yes." Michael said. Hannah’s eyes got wide.
"But... everyone’s going to be there. The mayor, the Governor, the Secretary of State…" excitedly, Hannah continued to list off the guests she had heard, oblivious to the fact that Molly was slowly turning an odd shade of green.
"Michael…" She said faintly. "You didn’t mention who would be there…" Michael smiled,
"Don’t worry... I’ve had to go two years now, and all it is is a bunch of older people in bad suits talking…. You won’t have any trouble at all." Molly’s expression remained dubious. Michael looked at the clock then stood back from the table.
"Well, does anyone want to head back to H&H and try to catch the news broadcast?"
"Just as long as Molly doesn’t adjust the antenna… at least not unless she keeps both feet on the ladder." Hannah said. The kids laughed, even Molly as they headed out to the business.
The days seem to pass quickly. Beyond the work on the business, Molly found herself helping Baloo, Rebecca and Wildcat prepare H&H for its hibernation, for the duration of the (hopefully) short war. As the day’s continued, Molly saw less of her mother. Rebecca had to get ready for the plant, and the thick stacks of paper Shere had first given her were the Synopsis’s of the plant and assembly line—the actual documents were far thicker. Rebecca had to read them, make choices about hiring and shipping, all in time for the opening. Molly had largely taken over the cooking, and in fact had become something of a tyrant, forcing her mother to both eat and rest.
"Molly, I’m the adult here." Rebecca said one late night, looking at her nightgown-clad daughter, who was glaring at her mother.
"Then act like one, Mom. It’s three in the morning, and you have a meeting at eight…. How much work do you think you’ll get done if you get an ulcer, or are thinking like a zombie tomorrow?" Rebecca threw up her hands and surrendered, going to bed. Molly smiled as she headed off to her own room. Rebecca poked her head out of her room, and called.
"Don’t forget that the fitting for your dress is tomorrow, Molly." Molly winced. She had been getting a bit nervous about this ‘little outing’ as Michael had called it yesterday. She went back to bed, and tried to ignore the butterflies trying to get out of her stomach.
After they finished their rounds, Michael came back with some coke, where Molly waited on the side of the street, watching the bikes. He handed one to her, then drank from his gratefully. Wiping his brow with the cool glass.
"Are you going to the hospital this afternoon?" Molly paused at the question.
"No… I’ve got that fitting this afternoon." Michael nodded. Molly turned to him,
"Why do I need a fitting?" Michael looked back at her.
"They do it so your clothes go with mine… Everyone does it at these things." He finished.
"Great…" Molly said.
"Is something wrong?" Michael asked, a little worried. Molly looked back up at him.
"No! I’ve just never done this before…" She smiled. "Don’t worry, I just wanted to know what to expect. Anyway," She continued, "I’ll see you Saturday night… Friday I need to help mom move some of her stuff to the new office, and we’ll be driving back and forth all day." Michael grinned.
"OK… We don’t have anything to do tomorrow, we’ve cleared all of today’s shipments." He waved as Molly finished her coke and dropped it in the trash. "I’ll see you Saturday night." Molly waved back at him as she pedaled off down the street.
"Well… She’s not nervous at all… I wonder what Granduncle was talking about."
"Maybe I could just call in sick." Molly said, looking miserable as she stood in the living room, with Rebecca making some last minute adjustments on her ball dress. Molly looked at the mirror, her grumpy expression looking back at her. The dress was incredible… almost like a waterfall caught in midmotion. Which made the look of the moose who was wearing it all the more depressing.
"No you can’t, Molly…. How do you think that would make Michael feel?" Rebecca answered.
"But I look like a Moose!" Molly said, waving her hands around. "Everyone there is going to smell the gasoline on my hands and…"
"Molly, nobodies going to smell anything… especially given how long you took getting ready." Rebecca said, with a gentle smile.
"And I have no idea of how to eat… I’ll probably do something that will have-" Rebecca cut her off.
"Molly, all the people are going to wonder is who is that pretty young lady. Don’t worry about the dinner… you’ll know what to do… when you stop worrying about it." Rebecca got up and looked at the dress. "There. Now you’re ready."
"Ave Moritorui" Molly said. Rebecca blinked and laughed.
"No Molly. I don’t think that Caesar will be there." She looked up at the clock, and turned back to Molly. "Here let me help you down to the street. The Car should be here in a few moments."
As Molly and Rebecca came out of the room, she saw Baloo and Wildcat sitting in the living room. Now she really wanted to hide.
"Wow." Baloo said, "You look great, Shortstuff." Molly gave a sickly smile to Baloo, as Rebecca helped her out the door, Wildcat holding it open. As the door closed, Baloo looked over at Wildcat.
"So Wildcat, is it just me, or did Molly turn into a lady when I wasn’t looking?" Wildcat’s return gaze said all that needed to be to that question.
Molly and Rebecca entered the lobby of the apartment, since taking the outside elevator down ran the risk of getting splashed on the curb. Several people were in the lobby, reading papers, or just taking in the afternoon. Molly looked around as they looked up and saw her.
*Yes everyone, come see the wonderful dress and the moose who is wearing it,* She thought. As she and her mother walked out of the lobby, onto the street where the limo waited, Emma Simpson looked over at her neighbor.
"Was that the nice girl from the top apartment?" She asked.
"Yes…" A sigh, "Doesn’t she look beautiful?" That rhetorical question was met with nods of agreement.
"It seems like just yesterday that she was running around in that little ‘Dangerwoman’ getup, doesn’t it." Emma continued, "Where do the years go?"
The mechanics of getting down the to the street kept molly’s mind off of her troubles for a few moments, but then the limo at the curb brought them back full steam. Rebecca got her in the car, then stood back, waving good bye as the driver got into his seat, and started off.
"Where’s Michael?" Molly asked. Samson turned around and looked at the bearess.
"He has to stick by Mr. Khan, Molly. Sayin hi to the bigwigs, you know."
"Oh…" Samson caught the tone of her voice.
"Don’t worry about tonight… everything will work out ok." Molly nodded. Looking out of the car, she noticed the numbers of limos and other vehicles moving up to the Royale. Samson pulled up, then a doorman; in a uniform that would put many general’s dress uniforms to shame, stood up and opened the door for her. Molly got out, looking around.
*Behold the moose, everyone* She thought as she walked down the red carpet, looking at the paparazzi and the other onlookers. Just in front of her, a dignified older wolf and his wife were walking to the main ballroom. Molly followed them.
"ANOUNCING THE HONERABLE CHIEF JUSTICE MCCONNAL AND MRS. MCCONNAL" The Major Domo said, striking a staff on the ground. Having no choice, Molly walked behind them.
*Maybe God will vaporize me, or the ground will swallow me up or-* God remained stubborn on the point.
"ANNOUNCING MISS. MOLLY CUNNINGHAM!" The man said, and dozens of eyes looked at her like tracking AA cannon. Molly kept a smile on her face as she began to descend towards the bottom of the stairs. If she could get to the crowd and lose herself in it-
"Molly! You made it!" Michael came walking over, bounding a little, actually and incidentally blowing any hope of anonymity out of the water." Coming up to her, he paused and took her hand, bending over it. "I’m happy you made it." He said softly. Molly looked at him and realized how happy he was, his eyes dancing. She smiled, a little more naturally.
"Well… I wanted to see what you call a little party." She looked around. "I think you need some remedial dictionary work." Michael laughed, then took her by the arm and led her to their table, as the rest of the crowd was beginning to migrate to their tables. Seating Molly, Michael sat next to her, as the first platters of food were brought. For a moment molly looked in panic at the silverware sitting on her place. Rebecca’s instructions on what to use first had completely vanished from her brain.
The woman next to Molly, middle aged lioness, looked over at her, and picked up one fork.
"You know, I’ve never understood all of the different forks they use for these things." She said. "Now take this one. They call it a salad fork, but I can’t tell any difference between it and a regular fork." She went on, while molly listened, and in the process of complaining, managed to give the younger bearess a complete list of what was used when. Molly looked up at her and asked.
"Pardon me… Ma’am" She looked down at Molly. "Yes?"
"Have I met you before… I seem to remember your voice…"
"Hmmm…." The lioness looked at her, then opened her mouth and in a slightly different voice said.
"I don’t know, governor…but I’ll get the frosty pep back." Molly blinked, then realized where she had remembered the voice from.
"Your… you were the actor for…"
"Dangerwoman." The lioness supplied. "I take it you were a fan."
"Oh yes!" Molly said. The lioness smiled.
"Well, in the world my names, Morgana L’Farge. What part of the show did you like the best?" Molly smiled.
"Well… the cape and dangerhelmet…" Looking over at Michael to make certain that he wouldn’t hear. "But I think sometimes my mom could have done without them…" Morgana laughed.
"That was a common theme of many parents… I just told them they weren’t the only ones who made sacrifices."
"Oh?" Molly asked.
"Remember the three day marathon?"
"Did we sound desperate at the cliffhanger?" Molly blinked, then nodded. "That was because the tape had glitched midway through. The last day and a half was live…."
"How did you survive."
"Coffee… lots and lots of coffee…and also Jack, or Dr. Destruction, made a mean batch of mega sugar fudge for energy." Molly blinked at the image of the owner of the menacing voice that had sent her under the bed on several occasions making fudge. They continued talking for a brief bit, before the first serving was brought out, and Molly, thanks to Ms. L’Farge was able to eat without looking like a total git.
Michael leaned over to her.
"Someone you know?" He asked. Molly smiled.
"Well, I know the voice quite well…" Molly paused, then thought about something. She got the attention of one of the servers, and when he came over whispered in his ear.
"Could you send a plate down to the driver of my car, Samson?" The waiter blinked, and then nodded. "Great… thanks a lot." Molly said. The waiter blinked at her thanks, then smiled.
"No thanks needed, I’ll get it down there right away."
Down in the waiting room for the drivers, Samson was dubiously looking at a plate of coldcuts when a waiter came in with a large covered platter. He looked up puzzled. The waiter smiled.
"With Molly Cunningham’s complements." As he put the full meal in front of Samson. "She figured that you might want dinner." Samson broke into a smile.
"That girl…" He said. "Whatever she thinks, she’s a natural born lady, she is."
Up above, the last of the meal had been cleared away, and the floor opened for the dance. Michael stood, helping Molly out of her seat.
"Would you like to dance?" The tiger asked her. Molly looked at all the elegant people moving about the floor.
"I’m not a great dancer, Michael. You’ve probably done this a lot more then me." She said softly. Michael took her by the hand.
"Well actually…." He paused, "You’re the first person I’ve really wanted to dance with." He said tugging her out onto the floor. Molly let herself be pulled along behind him, sending one pleading glance at Ms. L’Farge. The woman smiled at her and waved. Michael quickly showed Molly where to put her hands, and took her in his. He spoke in a low voice. "Besides… the closest I’ve come to a real dance is with my dance instructor… don’t ask." He said. Molly suddenly realized he was trembling slightly, either with fear or excitement. She lost any chance to ask as the band struck up a dance tune and Michael moved into it.
Molly soon began to enjoy the dance, forgetting her nervousness, just moving in Michael’s arms as they moved around in a swirl of her gown, set off by his black and white suit. Molly found herself moving closer into the circle of his arms. When the final dance ended, molly found herself surprisingly regretful as Michael escorted her back to the side, arm around her shoulder, her head nestled into the crook of his shoulder. Michael looked up at the clock.
"Heh…. It’s 10:00 already… ." He said softly. Molly looked up at him.
"Let’s take a little walk…" She said. Michael looked at her for a moment, then nodded. In the bustle of the end of the party, with cars coming and going, nobody noticed as Michael and Molly walked out of the entrance, Michael helping Molly put on the cloak.
"I told Samson… he’ll be waiting." Michael said, as they walked behind the Royale, up the small hill that was behind it. Molly looked at the full moon, and the hill bathed in silver light. The place had been familiar to her, even before the hotel had been built four years ago. Up at the summit of the hill was an old, broken down clubhouse, a faded sign still nailed up to it, reading: "J NGL AC S". "Michael read out the letters. "I wonder…"
"The Jungle Aces…" Molly said, "It was an old club Kit and his friends had. When I was nine sometimes I tagged along…" Michael walked over to the old tire, still on its rope, and gave it a small shove, watching it as it went to and fro. Michael took Molly in his arms, and she relaxed, leaning against him.
"Thanks for coming, Molly." Michael said.
"Thanks for letting me be here, Michael…" Molly said softly, then turned in his arms to look up at him. "I liked the dance… a lot." Michael looked down at her, and suddenly felt like his heart was about to punch right out of his ribcage. He leaned down towards her. Molly tipped her head back and closed her eyes. Gently, Michael’s lips met hers. After a long moment, they pulled back, then hugged, tightly. Relaxing as Molly nestled up against Michael. He looked down at the lights of the Royale, and the activity going on down there. He sighed regretfully, then started to walk back slowly, Molly still in his arm, leaning up against him.
They came to the entrance, and Michael looked back at the interior. He had to go back and stay with Granduncle, at least for a few more hours.
"Call me tomorrow?" Michael asked. Molly nodded, not quite trusting herself, then gave him a hug as Samson drove up in the Limo. The driver stepped out and waited for Molly and Michael to break their hug, then smiled as he opened the door for Molly to get in. He smiled as Molly floated in, a smile on her face. Closing the door, he got in, watching as Michael returned to the Royale.
+They do make a couple,+ Samson thought, his own smile broadening. +I wonder if they realize it.+ The chauffeur started the car up and drove down the road. +Well if they don’t… everyone else does.+