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.
Morning at the Khan tower.
Michael sat nervously, as he waited for Shere to finish his own breakfast. Don Karnage’s photo’s of their adventure under the museum had arrived yesterday, and Khan had said very little. Molly had said more, in the one phone call she had made, mostly having to do with being grounded until the heat death of the universe... maybe longer.
Khan finished the roll, precisely folding the napkin, and depositing it on top of the dish, where a maid took it away. He looked up at Michael.
“So I am to understand that in addition to your other... misadventures, that night, you encountered Don Karnage?”
“And you did not feel the need to tell me of that encounter?”
“Ah... I didn’t see any reason to worry you?”
“I... hoped you would not find out?”
“Much better.” Khan paused.
“So that is what became of the 300$ camera you were so proud of....” Khan looked at Michael.
“Well yes, that-I mean Don Karnage took it and in all the chaos, I decided not to try to get it back.”
“Wise. Michael, in addition to breaking and entering, which is both illegal and beneath you, you placed Molly Cunningham and Jereem Kalin in potential danger.”
“The fact you didn’t expect there to be any danger is only a slight mitigation of your actions...”
*I am going to die...* Michael thought.
“Therefore, in attempting to gauge the action I should take, I have come to a conclusion.”
*Here it comes*.
“You’ll have to buy back your camera, by getting a job... and not with Khan Industries, or any of its affiliates.” Shere said in the same precise voice.
“It is always important to learn your own abilities, Michael. Working outside of the company, where you will get no special favor.” Shere raised a hand, stilling Michael’s reply. “I did not say you would seek such favor, but you will get it... even if you try to refuse it.” He paused.
“Given the money you already have in your account that is accessible to you, you should be able to purchase the Camera in a few months, if you apply yourself.” Khan took a sip of coffee. “Given that your school is on break... I suggest that today would be a good day to seek out potential places of employment.” The older Tiger got up and entered his office, with the crowd of flunkies and hangers on waiting at the door. Michael sat there, stunned, then a smile came across his face.
*This will show Shere that I’m capable of working on my own!*
Molly sat in Higher For Hire, waiting for the boom to fall. Rebecca had decided, after her initial rant, to wait until the next day to finish her... conversation with Molly. Becky finished her paperwork, then looked at her daughter for several seconds. Molly started squirming. Usually, silence was not one of her mothers larger problems, making this quiet pause unnerving in the extreme.
“So, Molly... you went into a deserted building, or rather broke into it, to get some pictures, and ended up getting chased all over the place by Karnage and a ghost?”
“Why?” Rebecca asked.
“Michael wanted to get the pictures really, really badly... “
“So he made you do it?”
“No, I decided to go on my own.” Rebecca sighed.
“And Michael lost his camera out of the whole affair?”
“Yes.” Becky looked at her daughter.
“Then, young lady, part of your punishment will be no more late nights out... at least until I think you’ve learned your lesson. I’ll decide if there’s anything else by this afternoon. Now, why don’t you go help Wildcat with the engines.” Molly got up and left, grateful to have escaped anything worse. Baloo walked in the door as the bearcub walked out of it.
“So what’s the punishment?” Molly’s godfather asked. Rebecca sighed.
“Well....” She paused. “Michael and Jereem are probably Molly’s best friends, so I don’t want to come down on her too heavily.” She paused. “I’m going to dock her some of her allowance, and make her work here during her vacation.... It’s not much of a punishment, but compared to some of the things you and Kit did.... it wasn’t much of a crime either.” Rebecca smiled. “And she was right when she reminded me that at no point had she actually *lied*,” Baloo laughed.
“Well... she can help out during the week... she’s a pretty fair navigator, too.” Rebecca nodded.
“Well, if she does go with you, don’t hit any fun spots if she asks... this is supposed to be a punishment...”
“No fun places... What’d I do, Beckers?” Baloo asked. He sighed in mock resignation. “I suppose I’ll live...” Rebecca smiled at him.
“Well, I was thinking about another diet... so this might be the start of something for you too...”
Baloo laughed and pretended to duck as he went outside, where the smaller form of Molly was bent over an engine, helping Wildcat take it apart.
Michael was discouraged, hot, discouraged, tired, discouraged, and discouraged, in that order. He had spent most of the morning looking for a part time job. His first problem was few places had any interest in hiring a 12 year old. Most of the smaller markets used the family children for that, and the larger places had older teenagers doing the work. He second problem was the name. Most places politely declined his application, especially when they realized his relationship to Khan... others immediately offered to hire him at an extremely high salary... with no set duties. Michael declined those, offended at the idea that his only worth was his relation to Shere Khan.
Finally, he sat down on a bench, and thought. It seemed as if the only thing he might be able to do was....mow lawns, and he shuddered at the idea. It wasn’t the work that bothered him... just the fact that he thought he could do better, if only he could figure-
“Hi, Michael.” Jereem’s voice intruded on his thoughts. Michael looked up and saw the coyote, standing by the bench. Michael was happy to see that Jereem was walking with barely a noticeable limp.
“Hello Jereem.” Michael said, depression coloring his voice. The small coyote sat down on the bench besides him and looked over.
“What is wrong?” Michael chuckled.
“Remember our little adventure in the station?”
“Karnage sent photo’s to Khan and Ms. Cunningham.” Jereem nodded.
“He did me too.”
“What happened to you?”
“Oh, nothing. I told Mom all about it when I got home, so she already knew everything... though I’m not certain she believes it even now.” Michael glared at Jereem for a moment, then relented. After his life, the coyote deserved some breaks.
“Well I need to find a job to pay for the camera.” Jereem looked at Michael.
“What about Mr. Khan?”
“It has to be a job for someone else.” Michael said, “And so far, the best I’ve found is mowing a lawn...”
“Have you tried Higher For Hire?” Jereem asked.
“Higher For Hire.... that would me I’d have to talk to Ms. Cunningham....” Michael said. He was not looking forward to that conversation. Jereem looked at him.
“Well if you want to be friends with Molly, you’ll have to talk to Ms. Cunningham sometime.” He paused, “If you’re worried about it, I’ll go down with you.”
“I’m not worried.” Michael said, “It’s just that....”
“You’re afraid she’ll throw you in the harbor for your part in the museum fiasco?” Jereem asked.
“Exactly. I apologized, but that was at a safe distance, over a phone...” Michael sighed. “Still, no time like the present... and the worst she can do is kill me...” He got up and slowly walked towards the waterfront, Jereem alongside him.
As the two got closer to Higher For Hire, Michael felt a great weight settling on his shoulders. Walking up to the door, Michael paused, then frowned as Jereem opened the door and walked in. Given a choice between entering the lions den, or standing outside like a prize idiot, Michael choose the lions den. Closing he door behind him, the tiger walked inside the office, noticing the cheery if somewhat outdated decor.
Rebecca was sitting at her desk, working on some paperwork. Jereem walked right up to the desk.
“Hello, Ms. Cunningham.” Rebecca looked up at Jereem.
“Hello, Jereem. How’s the leg?”
“Fine... I can walk all over town now.” Jereem answered showing the light brace he now wore in place of the older one. Rebecca smiled.
“That’s wonderful Jereem.” Then her eyes fell on Michael.
“Hello, Ms. Cunningham,” Michael said, somewhat more diffidently then Jereem had. The Coyote smiled, knowing that Michael hadn’t known Becky long enough to notice the slight twinkle in her eyes.
“So you’re the one who convinced Molly to break into a building, go underground, run into a ghost, get captured by pirates, and then slog through half the sewer tunnels in Cape Suzzette.”
“Ah... yes.” Michael said, “That is about the size of it.”
“Well, what brings you here then?” Michael swallowed, for some reason more worried then he had been about Karnage.
“Well, first of all, I wanted to apologize in person.”
“Well, I’ll accept it... this time.”
“And I was also wondering, since Mr. Cloudkicker isn’t here right now... do you have any work that needs to be done?” Rebecca looked at him, measuringly.
“Maybe... but most of our work is of the more physical nature...”
“I don’t mind!” Michael said, perhaps too quickly.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with a camera, perhaps?” Rebecca asked.
“Well.... Granduncle decided that I should pay for it... and I am a bit short..” Rebecca raised her eyebrows.
“It must have been an expensive camera.”
“About three hundred dollars, Ma’am”
*Yikes! That’s more then some cars* Becky thought.
“Well I have some shipments that you can help on today, and we’ll see how things go. I think we have a coverall in your size, no reason to wreck those good clothes working.” Rebecca paused. “How does a dollar a day sound?”
*Better then mowing lawns...*
“Good. Jereem, do you want to do something?” Rebecca asked.
“Well, I was wondering if you could use some help from me,” The coyote said.
“I could. I have to be inventorying everything in the business for tax time, and I’d really be able to use some help.” Jereem nodded and moved forward as Michael went to change.
Outside, Molly swore, biting off the word as a springloaded clamp came loose and pinched her thumb. Wildcat looked up at her.
“Ya’know, that little ol springs probably saying the same thing. I mean I can hear it saying ‘that mean ole bear keeps on yelling at me and I don’t like it....’” Molly laughed at his comments. Wildcat had been, next to Kit, her most common babysitter, and she had long since come to love his... unique take on the world. She finally snapped the clamp down and hopped away from the engine.
“Well!” Molly said, “Now we’ve got the engines tuned... what’s next on the list?” Wildcat cocked his head and thought.
“well... I gotta make certain that all the control lines are nice an tight.. so they don’t like get tired and go to sleep in the middle of the air... that’d be real bad.” Molly nodded. She wasn’t allowed to work on that part of the plane, the adjustments of the lines being as much art as science. “I know.. why don’t you fix the radio... Baloo’s been saying that he can’t get his program’s on’it.” Molly nodded and walked over to the hatch to the cockpit, getting the larger box of tools she used on the plane.
“Molly!” A voice caused her to turn. She looked and eyes widening, saw Michael in a spare set of coveralls, waving. The bearess hopped down, and ran over to him.
“Michael!?” She asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Earning some money... the camera, you know.” Michael said, looking at the shorter girl. Molly’s face was smudged and dirty, and her normal school coverall had been exchanged for a grease stained set that had seen much use. “You’re the mechanic?” He asked,
“Not completely... Wildcat does the hard stuff.” Molly replied. “But I can help him, and Kit showed me how to navigate, so I can also help Baloo. Are you coming along on the flight?” Michael nodded.
“Ms. Cunningham said I would help him load and unload the cargo, for today and tomorrow.”
“I’ll help you,” Molly said, “I’m coming along to.. but these flights aren’t very long... just a few hours each way.” There was a shout from the warehouse, where Baloo was with a large number of boxes. “Oops! You’d better help Baloo, and I need to see what’s wrong with the radio...” With that the two scrambled back to their assignments. Michael grinned, looking at the boxes... they couldn’t be too hard, since most of them were pretty small. He declined Baloo’s offer of a handcart, and bent down to pick one up. It didn’t move. Michael not wanting to appear like some spoiled brat, put more of his back into it, and the thing still didn’t move. Baloo looked at the invoice and then back down at the straining youth.
“Ya’know, Michael. Maybe ya’should use the handcart, these are.. ‘genuine gold painted lead bricks’ after all.” Michael stopped short.
“Gold painted.... lead bricks?” He blinked. “Who would want those?”
“Some little company up north.. they’re opening a pirate ship amusement park...” Michael blinked.
“Why don’t’ they just paint normal bricks?” Baloo laughed,
“There’s a reason Rebecca wants money up front from them, Kid. Here, let me give you a hand with this.” By the end of the loading, Michael felt like he had been working all day. At least it was over for now.
“Don’t worry, Michael.” Molly said, “I’ll give you a hand unloading.”
“NO- I mean, it isn’t really necessary.” Michael said, and was saved from the embarrassment when Rebecca called her daughter to the office to get some last minute paper work. Michael sat down in one of the two jumpseats set up for cabin passengers. Molly hopped in and strapped herself in.
Grinning, the Bearess turned to Baloo.
“Don’t need any navigation this time, Baloo... just follow the coast up north for about three hours and then land at the really ugly looking park.” Baloo laughed.
“Does your mother know you talk like that about clients?”
“She warned me not to look at the park too closely or I might go blind.” Molly replied, getting a laugh out of both Baloo and Michael. The lion watched with interest as the plane flew towards its destination. The plane was old, and Baloo wasn’t what Michael was used to, but he flew with a combination of flamboyance and skill that made the trip seem even quicker then it was. Molly was occupied with tuning the balky radio, and occasionally checking up on the map to make certain they were on course, more for practice then anything else.
“How do you stay in business?” Michael asked, honesty curious. “I mean, granduncle is always talking about getting and keeping long term clients so how-”
“Do we do it with screwball ideas like gold painted lead bricks?” Baloo asked, smiling. “Tell you something, kid, we can’t beat ol’ Khannie. He’s got ships, a fleet of planes.. well you know. But,” The bear said, taking a quick drink of soda pop, “we have clients that are too small for Khan to bother with, or who only want one shipment, and that only ever so often.” he paused.
“They may not be worth Khan’s time, but they’re more’n enough for us... last month, Beckers had to turn down a flight.. we were over booked.” The bear laughed, “I though old Rebecca would have a fit when she realized it.” Molly chimed in.
“Besides, Michael...” She said, “If we had a few regular clients, we’d always be going to the same places, and that’d be *boring.*” Michael laughed along with her, and then sighed as the destination hove into view, the garishly painted park out of place along the coastline.
The Seaduck returned, and the sun was beginning to drop, the day not long past 3:00. Michael staggered out of the plane, just in time to hear Rebecca.
“Baloo.... That shipment for tomorrow just got moved up to today, could you take it over? They need this granite for the Patigonia Pet Peeve Rock contest tomorrow.” Michael groaned. The boxes were even bigger then those he had loaded first, and if they were full of granite... this time, he started with the hand cart, which made things better... but not by much. Molly busied herself with checking the engines... although they didn’t technically need to be checked after every flight on older aircraft it was a wise precaution, especially on those with all the modifications and quirks of the Seaduck. This time, there was little conversation on the flight, as Molly was a bit tired, and Michael felt like his arms were about to fall off.
Finally, the day was over. The Seaduck tied up to the wharf and buttoned up for the night. Jereem had finished helping Rebecca with the work and the businesswoman was impressed.
“Jereem, would you like to help out around here part time?”
“Certainly, Ms. Cunningham. Was I that much of a help?”
“Oh yes. Kit and Baloo were never what you might call book inclined, and Molly prefers being outdoors to this... if you’re interested...”
“Yes.” Jereem smiled, “I’ve always liked figures... they make sense, unlike people.” Rebecca laughed.
“They do that....” Molly and Michael came walking in, the Lion looking slightly better after he had used the upstairs quarters to shower and change, but still walking slowly.
“Oh, Michael.” Rebecca said, “If you want to keep working, we could use you tomorrow... we have a big day ahead.”
“This wasn’t a big day?”
“Oh, no... but tomorrow we have to get ready to send the Seaduck to Reticula... We’ll be doing that over the weekend.” Michael looked up. Rebecca continued, “If you’re interested, I’ve already spoken to your granduncle, and we could use the help over the weekend.” She paused, “I have to stay here, but Jereem will be going along with you three.”
“I will?” Rebecca smiled.
“Only if you want to.. but I though you might like to see how a contract is done... and you could check out the invoice for me.” As much as Baloo had changed, he still had an unnerving tendency to ignore minor little things like paperwork... leaving Rebecca to clean up the mess.
“Thanks!” Jereem said.
“Don’t mention it.” Rebecca said, “Michael?”
“I’ll be here early,” The tiger said.
*Even if it kills me.* He thought, as his back ached.
Back at the tower, Michael lay in bed, tired but not yet ready to go to sleep and throw in the towel. Granduncle had risen to control the largest company in the world, from jobs much like the one he had... so why couldn’t he make something of this. He sat up and went to his desk, looking at the paper. Shere had insisted he read it, to keep up on current events, but Michael seldom bothered with the business section... but when he opened it, his eyes widened, and a grin came to his face. This was a gift from the gods, indeed.
The next morning, Michael was up before the sun, preparing for his plan. He quickly clipped out the article, got every cent he had out of the safety box, and ran down to Higher For Hire, waiting impatiently for Molly and Rebecca to show up. When Rebecca arrived, she looked surprised.
“Michael? Why are you here so early?”
“I... wanted to get an early start.” He said, truthfully.
“Did you have breakfast?” She asked.
“Ummm.. I skipped it.”
“Not when your working here, you don’t.” Rebecca opened her purse and pulled out some money. “Why don’t you and Molly get something at the cart down the road?”
“Yes you can... Trust me, you’ll need the energy later today.” Rebecca made shooing motions at the two as she walked into the office. “Just be back in thirty minutes... that should be long enough to get Baloo out of hibernation.” Michael turned and walked down the street, Molly at his side.
“What is it, Michael?” Molly said.
“What do you mean?” The smaller bearess turned and looked at him, hands on her hips.
“The last time you had that look, we ended up running around under half the city... now what is it.” Michael handed the part of the paper he had cut out to Molly.
“RETICULAN REDFRUIT CROP WIPED OUT BY LOCUST HORDE.” Molly looked at the article.
“OK.... and what’s the point of this?”
“We are going to Reticula this weekend... right?”
“Yes?” Molly said. Michael threw his hands wide.
“Redfruit’s are in a glut here... you couldn’t give them away!” He said triumphantly. “We can buy some here, bring them along on the plane, and then make up all our money... enough for my camera, and a bunch left over for us!” Molly paused, then raised her hand, stilling Michael’s speech.
“First of all... no we can’t.”
“Because the Seaduck isn’t refrigerated for one thing. For another, fruit is really big for it’s weight... and we couldn’t load much without having to dump other cargo... Do you want to tell mom that or shall I?” Michael paused, slightly deflated.
“How about if we squeeze the fruit and just bring the juice? We could pack it into ice, and then sell it right off the dock... nobody eats the fruit anyway, they just drink the juice, so it’d be an even better selling point.” Molly cocked her head.
“That’d cost a bit more, Michael... we’d have to rig up a press to squeeze out the juice... containers to store it in... Wildcat had an old compressor lying around... we could make a refrigerator out of it....” She looked at him.
“I think we could do it but....”
“It’s a lot of work, and we’ll have to do it, as well as do the normal work...”
“I can handle it.” Michael declared.
“What about the money?” Molly said.
“I can cover most of it, and for the rest...” he trailed off.
“I have some... so maybe that’ll work.” Molly paused.
“Are you certain this’ll be worth it?”
“Molly Cunningham!” Michael said in a superior tone, ignoring her glare. “It’s the simplest rule of business.... Redfruit drink is the most popular drink in Reticula. They are out.. and we’ll have it. It normally goes for a buck a gallon, and I bet we can sell it for five, easily. Assume that we have 200 gallons of it and that comes to...”
“1000 dollars....” Molly practically squeaked. “I could get Wildcat that set of tools he’s had his heart set on... and mom her new adding machine... and still have a lot left over for me!” She grinned. “I’m in!” Michael smiled.
“Good... then all we need to do is tell Jereem, and we are off!” He paused, “And we will have to ask your mom if we can rent a little space on the plane...”
“That’s no problem... mom’ll be happy that I’m getting into the business....” The bearess grinned, “This is going to make up for that entire Karnage mess!” She paused. “We’re gonna have to do this all in the next three days...”
“I will handle getting the fruit... and I’ll help you on the refrigerator.” Michael declared confidently.
As the two kids returned to H&H, Michael went directly to help Baloo, while Molly went inside to talk to her mother.
“Mom?” Rebecca raised her head from some figures she was working on. The older woman looked at her daughter, and immediately realized-- A request was about to be made.
“Yes Molly?” Rebecca said, raising her eyebrows.
“If I finish all my work... could I have that old compressor?” Rebecca blinked.
“Why.....” She said, drawing the last word out.
“Um... I have a project in mind.... and no, it won’t break curfew or anything like that.”
“Then why don’t you tell me what it is.” Rebecca said, meeting her daughters eyes.
“I want to use it to make a refrigerator...” Molly said
“For what?” Becky asked. Jereem looked up from his own papers and watched the interplay between mother and daughter with interest.
*At least she isn’t saying no....* Molly thought. Rebecca continued.
“Molly.... Why don’t you tell me what it’s for.” Molly reached for the paper on Rebecca’s desk and opened up to the business section.
“Reticula’s redfruit crop went down the tubes, see and so we were thinking that if we’re going there this weekend, we can ship them some redfruit, only the fruit is too big for the ‘duck so we’re going to press it and bring the juice and that’s why I need to make a refrigerator-” Rebecca raised her hand, and molly stopped, slightly out of breath. Jereem was looking at the young bearess, and back to the paper.
“So what you’re saying, is that you want to ship this redfruit juice, and you need the refrigerator to ship it to Reticula.”
“On the Seaduck?”
“Well... yes.” “How much were you going to pay *me* for the use of the cargo space?”
“Ummmm..... would you accept a cut in the profits?”
“Why yes! 25% should do it.” Molly gulped.
“And you’ll have to keep up on the rest of your work, right?”
“Of course, mom.” Molly said, confidently.
“Well, then you and Michael have thought of just about everything...” Rebecca said, “I’ll just add one other suggestion... instead of pressing the fruit yourself, why don’t you just buy the juice direct... since you can get it almost as cheaply as the fruit.” She smiled. “I think you might find pressing out the juice a bit hard to do... especially given your time constraints.” Jereem watched the two, a quizzical expression on his face... there was something that just didn’t seem right.... He shrugged and went back to the books.
“OK!” Molly said, enthusiastically. “Michael and I can cover the money... so there’s no cost to you...”
“Well then,” Rebecca smiled. “How can I lose on a proposition like that? I’ll let you get to work... and if you need to, we can eat down here so you and Michael can get the work you need done.” Molly bounced up and left at a trot. Rebecca shook her head affectionately and looked at the article one more time before going back to work.
Michael was huffing, loading the last box into the Seaduck. The boxes were heavy, but nothing like the ones yesterday.
“So why are we not coming along for this flight, Mr. Bear?” Michael asked. Baloo grinned.
“It’s just a short little hop... an’ Wildcat has some family there, so I decided he can come along and say hi to them.”
“Oh... well if you are certain...” Molly came charging out and heard the last part of the conversation.
“I’m certain Baloo knows what he’s doing, Michael.” Molly said, just the tiniest edge in her voice. “Besides... we need time for our project... you know, the one Rebecca just gave me permission for...” Michael turned around to the young bearess.
“She did?!” He asked. Despite his optimism, he really had worried about Ms. Cunningham’s opinion. Baloo looked down at the two.
“You kids have something in mind?”
“Yeah, Baloo.” Molly said airily, “We’re going into business... wanna join up?” The older bear laughed.
“Nah, Shortstuff...” Baloo grinned, “I’m still not recovered from the last time I went into business...” He waved, then got into the Seaduck and started the engines, Wildcat in the copilot’s seat. As the Seaduck moved off into the harbor... Michael turned to Molly.
“I knew about our project.” He said, just a little crossly, “And why did you go and tell Baloo the whole thing anyway?” Molly frowned at him.
“Well if he had wanted to help...”
“Then it wouldn’t be *our* project anymore, now would it.” Michael paused, “If we put in all the work, we get all the money... if we have everyone and their brother helping, they get all the money.” Molly glared at him.
“I know that....” She paused, remembering what Rebecca had said. “And we’re not gonna get all the money.”
“Mom wants 25 percent of our profits to let us ship it in the Seaduck.” Molly said quickly.
“Gross or net?” Molly blinked.
“Did she want 25 percent off of our net profits, or our gross profits?” Molly shrugged.
“Mom never said.” Michael glared at her.
“Molly, that’s very important!”
“OK, then you talk to her about it.” Molly said, glaring back. “I’ve gotta work on the refrigerator.” Michael looked at her set jaw.
“OK, OK... I shouldn’t have snapped.” He said, putting his hands up. “I’ll ask Ms. Cunningham...” Molly’s mood changed, and she gave him a smile.
“OK, I’ll see you behind the building... that’s where the compressor is.” Michael nodded, and walked towards the main building. He opened the door, and walked in, waving at Jereem.
“Ms. Cunningham?” Rebecca looked at him
“Yes, Michael?” Michael cleared his throat.
“Did you intend for the 25 percent to come off of the net, or the gross profits?” He asked, crossing his fingers. Rebecca looked at him, and smiled.
“Well... what would your granduncle do?” She asked.
“Go for the gross... it would give him the best chance of recouping his investment.” Michael said.
“So that would be best for me... money wise?”
“Yes....” Michael reluctantly said. Becky laughed.
“Well... seeing as you were honest with me.... I’ll make it the net.”
“Thank you, Ms. Cunningham! I-ah mean thank you for giving us this help.” Michael said, regaining his composure... and glaring at Jereem who had to stifle a laugh at the tigers momentary lapse. He turned and quickly left the building. Rebecca looked over at Jereem, and commented.
“Jereem, I can handle the rest of this... why don’t you go give Molly and Michael a hand?” Jereem nodded, and then got up and walked to the door. Halfway there, he turned and looked at Rebecca.
“Ms. Cunningham?” Jereem asked.
“Why didn’t you tell Molly? I mean, you knew the difference between net and gross.” Rebecca paused and then smiled.
“Jereem.... If she’d asked me I would of. But both Michael and Molly want to do this alone, and they can’t do that if I’m butting in every second, telling them how to do it.” The older woman shuffled some papers, and put them in a drawer. “Besides, this won’t cost them much more then hard work and a little cash, no matter if it’s successful or not, and if it is, you’ll all be the better off for having done it yourselves.” She paused. “Are you going to work with them, Jereem?”
“I have to.” Jereem said, “Molly gets overenthusiastic... and so does Michael... I’ll just have to be the voice of reason... or of ‘I told you so’, depending.” Rebecca burst into laughter, and shooed him out.
At the rear of the building, in the rats nest of junk that was Wildcat’s source of raw materials for his mechanical feats, Molly sat down, looking at the compressor. It wasn’t rusty, that was one blessing, but it had no powersource, and all the rubber parts had long since deteriorated. She blew some hair out of her face, and then sat to work, spreading the blanket she had bought and began to disassemble the machine, taking each piece out and cleaning it, then setting it out on the blanket.
When Michael and Jereem came walking around the building, they saw the bearess in the center of a mass of disassembled parts, methodically washing each one in gasoline, and putting them down to dry.
“So how is it?” Michael asked.
“Awful.... all the rubber parts are rotted, and we’ll have to replace them.” Molly gestured at a piece of paper next to her. “Here’s what I’m gonna do.” Jereem looked at it, and pushed his glasses up on his muzzle.
“You have everything, but...” the coyote said, looking about, “The copper tubing, bottles and freon.” Molly nodded.
“Yep, I need you guy’s to get it.” Jereem nodded.
“How about if I get the redfruit... then we can use those bottles in the refrigerator.” Michael said loftily. Molly snorted.
“And watch the juice go bad while we set the system up?” She looked at him. “I’m not Wildcat... this is going to take a while.” Jereem broke in.
“What do we need first? The tubing or the bottles?” Molly chewed her lip.
“Both, I think.” Michael nodded.
“Then I’ll get the bottles, and Jereem will get the tubing.” Jereem shook his head.
“I have a better idea. Why don’t’ we both go down to the scrapyard, and look there. How much money do you have on you?”
“About twenty dollars.” Michael said, getting a frown from Molly. She didn’t have to worry about having twenty dollars.
“And I have five... which should hopefully be enough.”
“I have a little...” Molly said.
“You’re providing all the skilled labor.” Michael said. “That is everything you should provide and more.” Jereem looked at Michael.
“Skilled or not, if we need more money, we’ll need it.” The coyote said, earning a quick glare from Michael. Jereem continued. “How about if we go get everything, and plan to have it back here by.... 3:00?” he asked, consulting his watch. He blinked. “Do you have all the gaskets?”
“Oh sure,” Molly assured him breezily. “they use the same types as the refrigerator indoors, and Wildcat keeps spares.” She waved them off. “I’ll see you at three.”
Fast Earl’s House Of Bargains was a small shack in front of a large junkyard. Michael and Jereem regarded it doubtfully.
“Well.” Michael said, “I’m certain we’ll find what we’re looking for here.”
“I’m not certain...” Jereem said, “Unless Molly needs a large amount of rust.” Michael looked at him, then turned about as a large hippo came out of the door.
“Well Hellooooo” The hippo said ingratingly. “Is there anything I can help you young fellows with?” Michael immediately disliked the individual, but..
“Well yes. We are here to buy-awk!” The tiger squawked as the two kids were magically transported into the shed, it seemed.
“Now... What can I get you boys?” The hippo continued, with an ingrating smile. Michael looked around at the inside of the building, and gathered his thoughts.
“We need ah... five 50 Gallon stainless steel containers, and 40 feet of 1/2 inch copper tubing...” he read off the rest of Molly’s list. When he finished, the Hippo smiled.
“Looking for a science project? You don’t need to go to that effort!” He vanished back behind some material and came out with a large box. “The x2000 chemistry set allows you young men to have all kinds of scientific fun, and only for....20 dollars!”
“No, Thank you.” Michael said, gritting his teeth. “We’re on something of a time limit, so could you please tell us if you have what we need? If not, I have two other stores on my list.” The prospect of loosing a sale brought the hippo back down to earth. Quickly grabbing the paper he looked at it and back to the two kids.
“Hmmmm.... Whyyyy yessssss..... We have all these items. And I’ll be able to give them to you for the quite reasonable price of...... 100 dollars.”
“ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!!???” Michael shrieked. Jereem blinked at that.
“Well.... I could knock some off of that... how does 95 dollars sound?” The hippo said. Michael took several deep breaths.
“Like. Highway. Robbery.” He said. “I doubt you’ve done that much business since this place started.... C’mon Jereem, we’ll go check out the other yards.” The hippo sprang up, waving his hands.
“Wait, Wait!” he said, “Perhaps I could lower the price down a bit. how much do you have?”
“twenty-five dollars” Jereem said,
“Which is far more then the scrap value of this stuff, which is all you’d normally get for it.” Michael said.
“Well..... OK. But,” The hippo said, raising one hand, “We don’t deliver for that, so you’ll have to take it out yourselves.... I can give you a hand truck-- for free!” Michael handed over his and Jereem’s money, wondering doubtfully what the truck was like.
Back at H&H, Molly finished the last of the parts and began to reassemble the compressor, looking at the plans she had made. The heat exchanger would dangle outside an open porthole, letting the wind help cool it off, while the rest of the system would be in the rear of the ‘duck. Molly shook her head and made more marks on the paper. She’d have to run an exhaust pipe from the gasoline generator she had borrowed... Shaking her head, the bearess continued to work, hoping that Jereem and Michael were at least finding their job as easy as it had looked.
Rebecca came around the building a looked at her daughter. Molly turned to her mother, her golden fur streaked and smudged from where she had gotten oil on it.
“How’s it coming, sweetie?” Rebecca asked.
“Well.... fine. really.” Becky cocked her head.
“That doesn’t sound certain.”
“It’s a lot harder without Wildcat’s help.” Molly admitted. Rebecca smiled.
“Do you think you’ll be able to do it?”
“Of course!” Molly said, then paused, “But... how late can I stay here tonight?” Rebecca looked at her.
“How does 11:00 sound... as long as you stay out of the sewer.” She paused, “I’ll be working that late, so it won’t be as if you’re all here alone.” Molly nodded and then looked down at the parts. She took a deep breath and started putting them together again... delaying wouldn’t make the job any easier. Rebecca affectionately tousled her hair.
“I’ll let you keep working... but we are going to have a dinner.... starving yourself won’t help anything.”
“But mommmm.” Molly said, “We can’t take the time to-”
“Yes you can, young lady...” Rebecca replied. “Besides, we’ll eat at the bar&grill up the street when Baloo gets back... it won’t take much time and you’ll work better for it.” She left, going back into the office where her own work awaited.
Michael looked at the truck.
“It doesn’t have an engine.” He said flatly.
“And you don’t have a license.” The hippo replied, “So you couldn’t drive it if it did. But since you’re coming from up the slope all you have to do is ride it down and throw the brake.” Michael turned to Jereem, then looked back at the rickety truck, piled high with their purchases.
“OK.” Michael decided. They had already spent to much time on this. He handed the money to the hippo, who immediately disappeared back into the shack, now that no money was to be had. He looked at the drivers...’seat’, actually more of a platform with a steering bar and brake bar and pedal. Walking to the gate, he looked down the road, descending at a shallow slope, getting deeper as it approached the water front. It was only a few miles to H&H.... what trouble could it be?
“Why don’t you steer, and I’ll give a push... then keep it going slow until I hop in.” Jereem looked at the rusty vehicle.
“Well.... alright.” The coyote said, getting on the seat and disengaging the emergency brake. Michael got behind the vehicle, his sight obscured by the five large steel barrels, and began to push with all his might.
The wheels resisted, then, just as Michael thought he would explode, began to move. It began to slowly move, and then hit the slope. Michael took a moment to relax, then fell over as the vehicle shot forward.
“JEREEM!” He yelled, getting to his feet and running after the receding vehicle. “SLOW IT DOWN... SLOW IT DOWN!!!!!!!” It began to slow up a little, and Michael caught up to it, and managed to swing himself into the seat next to Jereem.
“What are you doing! I said slowly!” Michael yelled, then noticed Jereem’s set expression, and the fact that his foot was all the way down on the brake pedal...without having any effect on the speed of the vehicle.
“I’m trying.... the load is too heavy!” The coyote gritted, sweat beading on his brow. Michael lent his foot to Jereem’s with no success. The vehicle kept gaining speed. Michael looked down the road, and saw with some relief that there were few cars on the street. Then the cart hit a rough spot in the road and bounced, almost throwing both kids from their seats.
“The brake... the emergency brake!!” Michael yelled, then reached over grabbed, and pulled it-- right out into his hand. “Oh that was helpful.” He growled, then saw a truck pull into the road. Jereem managed to avoid the truck, by going onto the sidewalk. Swerving from side to side, Jereem managed to avoid the few pedestrians, and get back onto the road, barely keeping from going over.
Michael gripped the side of his seat so hard his knuckles cracked. Finally, he saw that there was nothing else between them and H&H. He sighed, relaxing slightly.
“What are you calming down about?” Jereem asked.
“There’s nothing else to hit.” Michael replied, getting some of his poise back, as the wind whipped through his hair.
“Exactly... nothing between us and the bay.” Michael turned around, opening his mouth, just as the vehicle sailed onto the pier in front of H&H, continued, and went sailing into the bay. Fortunately, the empty canisters kept the whole assembly from sinking.... unfortunately, that allowed Michael to see the police car pull up to H&H. Jereem was cleaning his glasses, as a gape jawed Molly came running out onto the pier, with a rope. “Shall I explain this to Ms. Cunningham?” Jereem asked. The only reply he got was a groan.
“Well you could have been hurt.” Rebecca said, looking at the two kids. Towels had managed to get them just a little less waterlogged, and they had changed, but Michael still was drying off his hair. Rebecca continued. “But Wildcat says that the brakes on that...... cart were defective, and I’m going to have a little... chat with the fellow that let you use it.” Michael sighed, then sat up as Rebecca turned around and got a ticket from her desk.
“Still, there is the matter of a 125 dollar ticket... that I paid out to the police.” Rebecca commented. “Do either of you have any idea where I’m going to find the money for it?”
“Out of what we make from our sales?” Michael said.
“Yes!” Rebecca smiled. “And given that I now have a vested interest in seeing this work... why don’t you two go out and help Molly, if you’re feeling up to it.” Michael and Jereem bolted from the room, heading to the much safer regions where Molly was working. As they left, Baloo came walking in, still laughing. He and Wildcat had touched down just in time to help Molly get her two waterlogged friends and their cargo out of the bay. Becky turned to him and poked him in the chest.
“Don’t you go laughing mister.... that was right up the alley with one of your treasure hunts!” Baloo grinned.
“So maybe I should take those three on one?” Rebecca groaned.
“Don’t even joke... they found a ghost and pirates in Cape Suzzette... What they might find somewhere else, I shudder to think.” She sat down.
“Ready!” Michael’s voice came from outside the window. Baloo and Rebecca cocked their heads. “Start her up!”
“What-?, Turn it off, turn it offfff!!!” Came Molly’s yell.
“What happened?” Jereem asked.
“The freon, the freon-- it’s coming through the cracks.”
“Michael, I said turn it <cough, cough> OFF!!!”
Baloo looked at Rebecca.
“Yep, seems like they have everything under control.” Rebecca nodded.
“I thought you had soldered everything!”
“Well, it didn’t work!”
“Maybe if we tried again... and asked Wildcat if there was a reason why the solder didn’t hold?” That was Michael’s voice.
“I can handle it, Michael.” Molly said.
“OK... but if that happens on the Seaduck... we’ll lose everything and there is still the ticket to pay...” Jereem said.
“WILDCAT!!” Came Molly and Michael’s voice. Rebecca laughed softly.
“Good thing they have Jereem along... he keeps his head.” Becky said.
“Well, compared to everything else that’s happened to the kid, this is pretty minor.” Baloo replied. The bear sat down in the chair. “So, how close an eye do you want me to keep on them?” Rebecca frowned.
“Reticula... That’s a pretty safe place, isn’t it?”
“Well, you hafta go lookin’ for trouble, if that’s what you mean.”
“Then don’t let them go looking for it....”
“Sure thing, Bosslady.” Becky looked up at him.
“And get ready for something to eat. We’re all going to the bar and grill up the street.” Baloo cocked his head at the sound of a failing oil gasket and a female shriek from outside.
“Before they kill each other, or after?”
“Before,” Rebecca laughed, and shooed him out of the room, before sitting down, finishing up the last of her work.
When Rebecca rousted the kids out of the back to get something to eat. Molly and Michael were on the verge of killing each other, with Jereem acting as the moderating influence. Molly glared at her meal, her fingers bandaged where she had accidentally scorched herself with the soldering iron, and her face still smudged. Michael looked at his plate, and once again tried to comb his hair back.
“It was a good thing Jereem thought to call Wildcat.” he said. Molly glared at him.
“How was I to know about swedging?” Molly bit out. “I’ve never worked on a refrigerator before,” The bearess continued, covering her real embarrassment with grouchiness at Michael.
“Of course not...” Jereem said, finishing up his meal. “But Wildcat has a lot more experience then... well any of us. I certainly didn’t know about that.” Molly sighed.
“Well, at least everything is finished, except for washing out the canisters...”
“That shouldn’t take long.” Michael said.
“Guess again.” Rebecca said. Michael looked at Molly’s mother in surprise.
“Michael... you’re shipping food stuffs in those canisters.” Rebecca continued, “And I got a look at what they look like.” She smiled at Michael. “Before you can even think of putting redfruit juice in them, they have to be clean enough to eat off of... literally. Don’t think the health board is anyone to fool around with.” Rebecca paused, “Trust me. About six years ago I was thinking about getting into the pizza delivery business and I checked. I wonder what happened to those other fellows?” She finished. Baloo, eating next to her, suddenly seemed to get some food stuck in his throat, and grabbed for a glass of water, while Rebecca pounded him on the back.
“And that means?” Michael said.
“Well, first you should go over the inside with detergent and wire brushes, then probably use ammonia to wash them out, then tomorrow morning, early, Wildcat can help you steamclean them to get the last of the ammonia out and anything that might have survived, as well.” Rebecca finished. Molly nodded.
“That’ll be an hour to scrub them, per canister.... and we have five of them.”
“And that doesn’t count washing them out with the ammonia...” Michael said. The three looked at each other, then stood up.
“May be we excused?” Jereem asked, Rebecca waved them off, and they seemed to teleport out of the room, heading back to H&H at flank speed.
“Gotta admit.... they’re putting in the work for this.” Baloo said.
“Well, given who they are, what do you expect?” Rebecca asked. She finished her meal, and waited for Baloo to finish the last of his.
“So what’s the plan now?” Baloo asked her as they walked out of the restaurant.
“I’m going to try to finish everything tonight. We really can’t postpone this trip, and if the kid’s need some help, I want to be able to give it to them.” Rebecca said. She paused as they came around the corner, seeing the cluster of lights marking the trio’s work area. “But on the other hand, I think they might just make it on their own.”
Michael opened his eyes, then groaned and closed them again. It seemed that every bone and muscle in his body was competing for attention, with a catalogue of aches and pains. He rolled out of bed, looking at the alarm he had set yesterday for 6:00 AM, when he had come home... at 12:02 AM.
Michael went into the shower, feeling the warm water make his sore muscles relax just a little. At least today would make it worth it, he thought, concentrating on the money. He quickly ate breakfast and left the tower, avoiding any chance of running into Shere. He didn’t want some last minute chore to ruin today.
Michael walked down the still sleepy city, towards the H&H building. Already, there were lights on there, as Baloo and Wildcat prepared the Seaduck for the days business.
"Hi, Michael," Baloo said, waving as he moved yet another box of dried petunias (for the Falkenberb Flower Festival), into the ‘Duck. "Rebecca and Molly are gonna be here in a few minutes... Becker’s said to tell you that she’ll handle getting the juice... seems the company won’t deal with’ya unless you’re an adult." Michael grabbed as box and helped Baloo lift it into the ‘duck.
"Thank you, Mr-"
"Baloo, Michael, Baloo..." The bear paused, "Addin a ‘Mr.’ to my name makes me feel about a hundred years older...."
"Now if it would only make you act a little older...." Rebecca said, walking up the path. Michael saw her car, followed by a small truck, the driver using a hose to fill the canisters. Rebecca smiled at the tiger and pointed back to the truck. "Why don’t’ you go back there and give Molly a hand? She’s about to start up the refrigerator... and she might need some help." Michael nodded and ran over to the truck. Rebecca watched him go, then turned to Baloo.
"Now Baloo, make certain that they don’t get into any trouble." Rebecca said, Baloo frowned.
"Now Beckers, you know me!"
"I do, you’re right..... Make certain *you* stay out of trouble too." Baloo laughed.
"OK, OK, Beckers." He grinned, "Besides, they’ll be too busy mak’in money to get into trouble...."
Molly waited until the last cylinder had been filled with the deep ruby fluid. The smell of the extract pervaded the area, filling the bearess’ nostrils with a rich aroma. She turned as Michael walked up to her.
"Do you want to?" She asked, holding out the start cord to him. Michael shook his head.
"It was your work.... you should have the privilege..." Molly grinned and gave the cord a pull. The gasoline engine sputtered, then caught, and roared to life. Michael put his hand on the cylinders, and felt the copper tubing grow icy to the touch, while the radiators began to get warm. Molly jumped up and down.
"I can’t believe it... it actually works!" Michael looked at her.
"You had doubts?"
"Of course not!" Molly said, then in a deadpan voice, "It was going to do something... I just wasn’t certain what." The two kids looked at each other for a moment, then burst out laughing.
Jereem came walking around the corner, and looked at the Cylinders. He paused and looked at Molly and Michael.
"Is redfruit juice supposed to be frozen?" The coyote asked. Molly and Michael looked at each other.
"What do you mean, Jereem?" Michael asked. The coyote cocked his head.
"Well, I know some foods go bad if you freeze them, so I was wondering if this was one of them?"
"ahhhh...." Michael said, intelligently.
"Ummmmm" Molly replied with equally great intelligence. The bearess turned and ran down to the Seaduck. "Baloo?" She asked,
"Yeah, pigtails?" The gray bear replied.
"What does redfruit drink taste like... if it’s been frozen." The bear grimaced.
"Ugh. you don’t want to know.... all the flavors go to the bottom, and the top is this oily gunk.... ugh!" The bear paused, "Why, Mol-ly?" he stuttered, as the young bearess seemed to teleport to the freezer, and frantically turned off the compressor.
"Oh dear." Rebecca said.
"problem?" Baloo asked, looking at the frantically running bearess.
"It seems that way... actually I hadn’t thought of that either." Rebecca said.
"GREAT!" Michael said. "What do we do now?" Molly looked at him, then turned around to the cylinders.
"I didn’t think about that... I figured that we’d just freeze it, then carry it that way." She admitted. Jereem looked at them both, then at the assembly.
"Maybe if you turned it on and off at intervals... that would keep it cold enough, but not freeze it." The coyote said. "Unless you can just set it at a temperature."
"Get real." Molly said. "I had enough problems getting the thing to work at all." Jereem chewed his lower lip, then turned and ran back into the office.
"Hang on... I have an idea." he said. The coyote entered the office, then went to the thermometer on the wall. He pulled it off the wall, then walked outside and headed for the Seaduck, Baloo, and Rebecca. "Ms. Cunningham?" he asked.
"Could we borrow this for today?" Rebecca looked at it.
"Certainly, as long as it comes back intact." Jereem smiled and trotted over to the other two.
"We can put this on the outside of one of the cylinders." he said.
"But the stuff’s on the inside...." Michael said. Jereem nodded.
"Yes, but the cooling pipes are on the *outside*, which means that the temperature on the inside will be hotter then it is next to the pipes. All we need to do is keep the outside at freezing, and the inside will probably be just above that." He paused. "We can check it a couple of times during the flight, you know, open one of the cylinders to check." Molly looked at Michael.
"Why didn’t I think of that!" She said.
"Because you were working on the compressor all day." Jereem said. Molly frowned.
"Besides," Michael said, "no harm done." He gestured at the assembly. "Now, shall we place it on board the plane... and begin thinking on how we’re going to spend the money when we return?" Jereem frowned at that comment, but Molly was already pulling the machine towards the Seaduck’s cargo ramp.
"We’ll have to open up one of the windows... and trail the exhaust pipe and heat exchanger outside," The bearess said as confidently as she had before the temperature SNAFU had come out.
By the time the three had grunted, pushed and sweated the unit into the back of the Seaduck, and Molly finished setting up the outside exhaust/exchanger, the rest of the cargo was ready to go. Rebecca had Wildcat go over the exhaust, ignoring Molly’s glare. The older woman knew just how dangerous a monoxide leak could be in the confines of a cabin, and however skilled Molly was, she was also young.
With that, Rebecca said her good-bye’s, fixing Baloo with a gimlet eye as she repeated her order to "stay out of trouble.". Baloo laughed.
"Sure thing, Bosslady... You know me!" Becky paused.
"Molly, you make certain that Baloo stays out of trouble!" Rebecca said.
"OK mom!" Molly called back.
"Mnnnn.... you’d think after all these years, she’d know me better..." Baloo muttered jokingly.
Molly strapped into the seat next to Baloo, while Michael and Jereem settled themselves in the two rear seats. Molly looked at the map, then gestured.
"Once were out of the harbor... steer 224 for the next.... three hours." She paused. "No make that 2 hours 45 minutes... we can refuel at Winger City and then keep going." Baloo looked at the golden bearess.
"Eager to make money, eh?"
"Well.... yes." Molly said, waving at her mother as the Seaduck taxied out into the bay. Michael smiled.
"Besides," he said, "It’ll be nice to show granduncle that he isn’t the only one who can seize the day." Baloo laughed.
"Well, just don’t spend it all before you have it."
"Voice of experience, Baloo?’
"You bet, short stuff." He answered, as the Seaduck entered the narrow cliff, before emerging into the vast expanse of the ocean.
Even at 200MPH, it was better then 5 hours before they made it to Reticula. The conversation had waxed and lagged, and now the four were looking forward to stretching their legs... almost as much as the three kids were looking forward to selling their product. Baloo brought the Seaduck down in a picture perfect landing, just behind the protective wall of the breakwater.
Molly looked at the harbor crowded with numbers of cargo and passenger ships, although nothing like Cape Suzzette’s crush of commerce. Hopping out onto the front of the Duck, the attractive bearess caught a mooring line, and secured it to the front, while Michael did the same with the rear line. Quickly, the four hopped out, and Baloo paid the harbormaster for the berthing space.
Molly, Michael and Jereem occupied themselves with moving the storage unit out of the back of the ‘duck, not noticing Baloo until his loud voice cut through the clatter of equipment.
"WHAT D’YA MEAN THE PERMITS EXPIRED!" Baloo roared. Molly looked around, and frowned.
"Uh, oh...." She said as Baloo came stomping back towards the Seaduck.
"Pigtails... I’m gonna have to borrow Jereem." the bear said. He gestured at the harbormaster. "It seems that somebody forgot to update our permit, and that means I gotta go up to the office and settle this. Jereem’s better with figures, so I’m gonna take him." Molly smiled.
"Don’t worry," She gestured to the wheeled cart. "Michael and I can deliver this... there’s a wholesaler up the road just a bit. We’ll be back here before you two get here." The older bear and Jereem walked up the road, the coyote waving at the other two kids. Molly and Michael then turned to the cart, and looked at the slight incline of the road.
"It’s not much." Michael said, "We’ll have it up there in a few moments, at most." Molly looked more dubious, but set her back to it as the two began to move the cart up the road.
Baloo and Jereem entered the large office of the harbormaster. Baloo walked to the center desk, where a female warthog stamped paperwork forms.
"Hey sister," Baloo said heartily, "Can you tell us where to get a renewal."
"Must fill out forms." The woman grunted.
"Yeah, I know, so where do I go to fill out the forms."
"No. Must fill out forms to get permission to fill out forms." Baloo glared.
"Sister, this ain’t Thembria..."
"No. But is exchange program." The woman shoved a pile of forms into the bear’s face. "Must fill out in triplicate... must not use small coyote." she continued, not missing a beat as Jereem pulled out a pencil.
"Why not!" Baloo exploded.
"Not allowed." she said, as if that explained everything. Baloo forced a smile.
"Hey Jereem." Baloo said, "Take a dollar and get something for yourself at that diner... I’m gonna have to use some sweet talk on this...." He dropped his voice, "old battleaxe."
"Heard that." The woman said, in between stamping forms, DISAPPROVED.
Baloo sighed, and threw his eyes to heaven. With a sympathetic look, Jereem went outside, listening to Baloo’s reasonable voice... getting less reasonable and louder by the second. Walking up towards the diner, he paused. Sitting next to the entrance was a coyote girl, about his size, her face in her hands as her small body shook with sobs. Jereem, puzzled, looked around. The girl had several small suitcases, but there was nobody else around that looked like they belonged with her.
Molly and Michael panted and puffed as they moved the cart up the last ten feet. The short, shallow climb had turned into a path fifty miles long and a thousand feet high. Molly wiped her forehead as they finally got the cart to the top of the hill.
"There.... finally." Michael said, gasping for air. He sagged against the cart, before getting up and throwing his shoulders back. "Now for the part that makes it all worth it." Molly set the chocks under the wheels, and the two kids walked into the store. A single badger was working the counter, and raised his eyes at them as they came in.
"Can I get you two something?" He asked.
"Actually," Michael said, "We can give you something." He paused. "We heard about the redfruit disaster, and so we’re prepared to sell you premium redfruit drink at least 250 gallons worth. The badger’s eyes widened slightly. Michael grinned. This was going very well. "In fact, I bet that you won’t be able to get a better deal-" The badger burst out laughing... not just laughing, but gasping with hysterical chortles. Staggering over to a booth, he sat down. Molly and Michael looked at each other.
"Uh... did I say something funny?"
"You don’t know?" The badger asked, "You really don’t?"
"Know what?" Molly said, a little crossly. The badger got up and walked over to the window, still laughing. He pointed outside.
"What do you see?" He asked.
"Some ships." Michael said, wondering what was up.
"See the tanker?" The badger said, pointing to a ship in the harbor, the SK logo on its side.
"Yes..." Michael looked at the badger. "and your point is...?"
"Well, seems that Khan also heard about our shortage. That tanker out there holding about 250,000 gallons of prime quality, refrigerated, redfruit juice. I just bought enough to last me for the next month." he paused, "I’m afraid that you couldn’t GIVE redfruit juice away here now."
"Ah.... Nobody wants it?" Michael said, his voice breaking into a squeak at the end.
"Nobody at all?" Molly didn’t squeak... she just sounded like somebody had punched her in the gut.
"Sorry kids... I wish I could help you." the badger paused, "You’d better get that back to your plane, though.... if the cops catch you on the street with it, you’ll get fined for selling without a license." Molly and Michael looked at each other, looked back at the cart, and then looked at the bay.
"Throwing ourselves in won’t help." Michael said.
"But it might make us feel better." Molly replied.
"Let’s go." Michael said, and Molly wordlessly followed him out.
"Ah... hello.": Jereem said to the small coyote girl, about his age with dark hair. She looked up at him, face streaked with tears.
"hi..." She said unsteadily.
"Is, um. something wrong?" Jereem asked.
"I, was going to meet my father... and when I got to the airport, somebody picked my pocket. I lost all the money and my ticket... and he hadn’t rented an apartment yet so I can’t call him..." She said, miserably.
"Well... maybe I can help. Where are you going?" Jereem asked reasonably, looking into her deep blue eyes. She sniffed a moment, then pulled out a letter.
"Cape Suzette" she said.
<There is a God.> Jereem thought.
"I’m from Cape Suzette: Jereem said, sitting next to her. "If you want, we could ask Baloo-- he’s the pilot to give a call back to H&H. Ms. Cunningham could sent a cab over to where your father is and bring him to H&H.
"I don’t know..." She said, doubtfully." Jereem smiled.
"We could give a call ourselves, if you want. Ms. Cunningham would let me reverse the charges." Jereem said, crossing his fingers.
"Well... OK." She said.
"Good!" Jereem said. The two walked to a phone booth.
"What’s your name?" Jereem asked.
"Hannah Goldstein" She said, a little less timidly.
"Well, I’ll get Ms. Cunningham on the phone and then you can talk to her."
When the phone rang at H&H, Rebecca picked it up, while holding her coffee in the other hand.
"H&H, Ms. Cunningham speaking, how may I help you?" Her wandering attention was dragged back to the phone from her paper when she heard Jereem’s voice.
"Jereem! Is anything wrong?" Rebecca asked *Seaduck crashed, pirates have kidnapped Michael and Molly... Baloo vanished into Louie’s and hasn’t been seen since...*
"Oh, no. Nothings wrong with us." Jereem said, "Ah... could I reverse the charges? I’ll pay you back, but I don’t have enough on me right now."
*Thank God.* Rebecca thought. "Certainly Jereem. Now, if nothings wrong... why do I have the pleasure?"
"Well," Said Jereem, "I’ve met a lady named Hannah, and she’s had her ticket and cash pickpocketed.... would it be possible to give her a ride to Cape Suzette?"
"Hmmmm...." Becky thought, "Could you put her on, Jereem?" Jereem handed Hannah the phone.
"Hello?" The coyote girl said.
"Hello." Rebecca said, softening her voice. "Jereem tells me you have a bit of a problem, miss..."
"Goldstein... Hannah Goldstein, Ms. Cunningham." The coyote replied. Rebecca smiled. By the voice she wasn’t much older then Molly, if that old.
"Where is your father staying?"
"He ah... didn’t know... he was going to meet me at the airport, then I lost my ticket’s and I can’t get in touch with him and-" Hannah stopped talking.
"I can send a message to the airport... do you know what you flight was?" Hannah gave a number and Rebecca wrote it down. "You can come along... I’ll make certain that your father is here to greet you."
"Thank you!" Hannah said, eyes lightening up. Jereem took the phone.
"Thank you Ms. Cunningham." He said.
"No, thank you, Jereem." Rebecca said, "That was a good idea to call me. How are the others doing?"
"I haven’t seen Molly and Michael since I left the plane, and Baloo is working on some forms. They wouldn’t let me fill them out." Jereem answered. Rebecca laughed.
"Well, poor Baloo. If he wants, and Hannah is willing, you might stop by Louie’s for a few minutes on the way back."
"I’ll tell him, Ms. Cunningham." Jereem said.
"Well, I won’t keep you then." Rebecca said, "I’ll see you back here tonight."
"Good Bye, Ms. Cunningham."
"Oh, and Jereem?"
"Tell Molly that she shouldn’t spend all her profits in one place."
"OK." Jereem said, hanging up the phone.
Jereem turned to Hannah, holding out his hand.
"Let me show you to the airplane." Jereem said, as Hannah took his hand.
"Thank you so much Jereem." Hannah said, "Could you show me around Cape Suzette after I and my father find a place to stay?"
"Certainly!" Jereem said. "Did your father find a job at Cape Suzette?"
"Yes… but that is not the main reason we are moving." The girl said. "I do not know if you keep up with the news, but things are getting… much worse for people like us in Eporue. We are still allowed to leave, but father decided that it would be best to leave while we could." Jereem nodded, then changed the subject.
"You’ll like Cape Suzette," He said, "It’s one of the crossroads of the world… everyone comes there sooner or later." Hannah smiled.
"It sounds much different from my home. Our town had less then a thousand people living there… father was the town doctor." She said as the two kids walked back towards the office, where Baloo continued to sweat over the pile of forms.
The two exhausted kids, having brought the cart back down the road, sagged by the berth where the Seaduck bobbed. Molly noticed with irritation that it was in the shadow of the Khan tanker. Michael paused.
"I’ve got to make a call."
"Good. I’ll come with you." Molly stalked over to the phone with him. Michael picked up the receiver and made a call, collect to his Granduncle.
"Yes Michael?" Khan said, consulting a sheaf of papers in his large office.
"Uncle... you’ve moved into the redfruit business?" Michael asked, hoping against hope that he had uncovered a plot.... which would get some reward.
"Of course I have, Michael. There is a shortage, you know." Michael glared at the phone.
"How did you get everything ready so quickly!" Michael yelled into the handset.
"Tsk, tsk, Michael. you must be calmer.... to answer your question... I bought up the redfruit plantations and had them stop production... thus causing the shortage. I had already stored a sufficient surplus to take advantage of it." Michael blinked.... stunned, his jaw hanging open. Molly looked at him, not hearing the Shere end of the conversation.
"Why do you ask... and what are you doing in Reticula?"
"Selling redfruit..." Michael replied in a faint voice.
"Hm.... An excellent plan, if one doomed to failure... Michael, you should consult with me before entering into these plans. I hope that the get rich quick plans of Ms. Cunningham are not rubbing off on you."
"No." Michael said. "I’ll talk with you later, Granduncle."
"Very well. Michael, you might want to sit in with Captain Engles, while he sells the juice... you could learn a great deal. By the way Michael... I am deducting this phone call out of your allowance. " Michael hung up the phone and looked at Molly.
"What did he say?" The golden bearess asked, gritting her teeth.
"He knew about the shortage." Michael said, sagging against the side of the booth.
"IN TIME TO GET ENOUGH JUICE TO FILL THAT!!!???" She shouted, gesturing at the ship.
"How....." Molly said, trying to sound calm, her hands whitening where she held the edge of the booth.
"He made the shortage." Michael replied, his forebrain not yet censoring his comments.
"He bought up all the plantations and reduced production.... then prices went up and now he’s making a killing." Michael said in the same shell-shocked tone.
"But that’s... but that’s..." Molly’s speech failed her.
"Business?" Michael offered.
"Underhanded Business!" The bear said. "Mom was right... NEVER trust a khan in business."
"Well Granduncle did mention that Ms. Cunningham’s get rich quick schemes have always lead nowhere." Michael retorted, stung. "and may I remind you, that this was -"
"YOUR IDEA!" Both kids shouted in each other’s face.
"It was not my idea...you were the one who brought the paper!" Molly yelled.
"Well as I recalled, I just wanted to ship a few crates... you were the one who turned it into an engineering project!" The shorter kid glared at him.
"I told you we had to do it that way."
"And I’m telling you that bringing a few crates would have given us a little of something instead of a lot of nothing!"
"Fine! Next time why don’t you work on your own project!" Molly stalked off to the Seaduck. Michael took a deep breath and followed her. He looked up the road and saw Baloo, and two others walking back down. He blinked. One of them was Jereem and he was chatting with another coyote, a pretty black haired girl, about Jereem’s own age. Michael opened his mouth, then closed it. Why ruin Jereem’s day too?
"Hey kids!" Baloo said, heartily. "How did the business go?" he paused, and looked at the cart with the canisters on it. "That still looks full… didn’t you sell it already? We’ve gotta get going pretty soon."
"No. We didn’t sell it, Baloo." Molly said. "In fact, it seems that a certain SHERE KHAN, decided to do the same thing… only with a tanker!" Molly finished, glaring at Michael, who glared back.
"That’s too bad." Baloo observed, "But those thing happen, kiddo. No reason to get yourself in a flutter about it." Molly took a deep breath.
"No…." She said, "But we still have to figure out what we’re going to do about the money…" She turned to Jereem and Hannah. "Jereem, who is this?"
"Oh! Hannah, this is Molly Cunningham and Michael Khan. Michael, Molly, this is Hannah Goldstein."
"Hello," Hannah said, looking up at the two.
"Hi Hannah." Molly said. Obviously, Jereem’s day had gone well.
"Hello Hannah." Michael said.
"She’ll be coming with us to Cape Suzette," Jereem continued.
"Well, we can dump the juice in the bay." Michael said, but Baloo interupted, "Hold on there, Michael." The bear said, "You don’t want to go dumping stuff into the bay… that’ll cost you a pretty penny in fines." He paused, "Besides, maybe Louie could use some… y’won’t make as much money as you thought y’would… but you’ll make more then you will right now." Michael nodded.
"Your right, Mr." At Baloo’s warning cough, Michael paused. "Baloo," The bear laughed and waving the kids into the plane, gave Michael and Molly a hand in moving the still chilled Redfruit container.
Jereem and Hannah got the two passenger seats, while Molly sat glumly in the copilot’s seat, with Michael tending the cargo in self-imposed exile. The two ignored each other as they sat with their thoughts. Jereem and Hannah talked quietly, but for the most part the Seaduck was quiet as it winged towards Louie’s, the sun sinking into the sea in a giant red ball.
By the time they had arrived at Louie’s, Molly felt just a little better. Certainly they could sell the stuff to Louie.
"Now kids…" Baloo said as they got out. "We’ll get something to eat."
"I’m not hungry…" Molly said, and Michael nodded.
"Well," The bear continued, "Maybe not now, but I always say a good meal is the best antidote for a bad day." Baloo finished, thumping his expansive stomach for emphasis. With that, Molly and Michael relented, both walking towards the restaurant.
"If we can sell it here…" Michael said to Molly, "It should make up for some of the loss."
"Maybe," she said, noncommittally. "But I still think what Shere did was underhanded!"
"Well…. Yes." Michael admitted.
Entering the place, Hannah’s eyes widened at the décor, and the numbers of people going back and forth, working, dancing, eating, or just relaxing after a long day.
"Hiya, ‘Cuz!" Louie said, from behind the bar where he was finishing up a dozen meals. "Haven’t seen you in at least a week!"
"You know Beckers…" Baloo said laughing.
"And who is this?" Louie asked, looking at Hannah.
"Oh, Hannah lost her airline ticket so we’re bringing her back to Cape Suzzette…" Jereem said, Louie looked at the others, all of whom had been in at one point or another.
"Well, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that you all look like you could really use break." He said, looking at the depressed looking Molly and Michael. "I know just what will cheer you up!" They found a table and sat down, looking at the menus. Hannah and Jereem were consulting, while Molly and Michael simply waited. Louie turned up again with five tall glasses, brimming with a familiar reddish fluid.
"Drink up!" Louie proclaimed. "Redfruit drink! Just got in a shipment… and this is gonna be the newest item on the menu. Good thing I got all I did, to." Molly and Michael’s faces had paled to the color of a new moon.
"Need anymore?" Molly asked, finishing Michael’s stunned sentence.
"Nope, can’t say that I do… Khannie sold me better then five tanks of the stuff… I’ll be hard put to use it all up as it is… Did you want to buy some?" Louie asked, half jokingly.
"Actually, we were going to try to sell it to you." Michael said, and between him and Molly the story came out. Louie shook his head sympathetically.
"Hard luck, ‘cuz. Don’t worry though, everyone loses their shirt the first time out…" Michael groaned, as Molly glared at him. Then, taking a deep breath, the bearess started in on her sandwich, using a knife to cut it into smaller pieces, not because she had to, but because she could then pretend that it was Shere Khan with each savage sawing motion.
The Seaduck landed and taxied up to H&H, the moon turning the water silvery. Rebecca waited for them at the dock an older coyote by her side. Hannah got out of the ‘duck and ran to him.
"Hannah!" He said, sweeping her up in a bearhug. Turning to Jereem who had followed the coyote girl, he said. "And you are Jereem, who arranged this?"
"I, er, I just met her and then decided to call Ms. Cunningham."
"Which is more then many adults did during my daughters troubles. What do you wish.. If I can give it, it is yours!" Jereem blinked in embarrassment. Then he looked over at the Seaduck and a thought hit him.
"You’re a doctor?"
"Do you need a freezer?" Hannah’s father paused.
"I could do with one, yes, but not so much a freezer as an icemaker. The place in which I will be practicing has many poor families, without refrigerators. Why?" Jereem looked over at Rebecca, then back to Hannah’s father.
"Mr. Goldstein… if you were to buy a freezer from my friends, I’d be very happy. I can guarantee that it will work." Goldstein looked over at the Seaduck, then back to Rebecca.
"If it were for blood, I would have to say no… those require exact temperature control.. but for freezing water… of course." Rebecca smiled at Jereem and turned to Mr. Goldstein.
"I’ll work on a fair price… and I want to make certain that the two builders understand their long term maintenance obligations… but I think that you won’t be disappointed."
"Papa, could Jereem show me around the town?" Hannah asked. Her father laughed.
"Of course, little one. Besides, from what Ms. Cunningham says, you will both be attending the same school." Jereem managed to avoid leaping for joy.
Meanwhile Molly and Michael had finished moving the canisters to the drain, and were busily engaged in pouring their hoped for sale down the drain. They finished and Molly sat down on the curb. Michael joined her.
"You’re probably right." Michael said, "I should have checked more and besides, no matter what we had brought, the plane wouldn’t of left any earlier… I’m sorry I put you through so much work for nothing." Molly shook her head, then tiredly leaned it against his shoulder.
"Don’t worry about it…. We both should have figured that somebody else was going to go for this… I just didn’t think that Shere Khan would have been involved." She paused, "I’m beginning to see why even people that don’t like him don’t joke about him." She looked up at Michael. "What about your camera?" Michael sighed.
"I guess I get to learn how to mow lawns…. Both for the camera and to pay Ms. Cunningham back."
"Michael? Molly?" Rebecca asked coming over to them.
"Mom?" Rebecca looked down at the two.
"Baloo told me. I’m sorry that it didn’t work out." Molly shrugged.
"We’ll survive…. But it might be a while before we can pay you for the ticket." Rebecca laughed softly.
"Maybe sooner then you think. Mr. Goldstein needs help working on his new office, and he wants to buy the freezer….. for 200 dollars." Molly and Michael both shot up and looked at Rebecca. Counting the cost of the freezer and the ticket, that just about put them where they had started. "Also," Rebecca continued. "If you’ll help him with the building, getting everything ready, setting it up and so forth, he and I will pick up another camera."
"Ms. Cunningham… I couldn’t." Michael said. "I need to earn the camera." Rebecca laughed.
"I know where Ms. Goldstein is setting up his office. Trust me, you’ll earn it." She paused, "Interested?"
"I, well, YES." Michael said, getting up. Molly stood by him.
"Good." Rebecca said. "Now that that is settled, I’d suggest we get something to eat. Baloo said that you two didn’t each much at Louie’s."
"Ok." Molly said, "But mom, no…"
"Nothing redfruitish about the meal, I promise!" Rebecca said, laughing. "Now come on you two, we have to go eat and then help Mr. Goldstein and Hannah move all their stuff into their new apartment."