The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh
After breakfast was out of the way, that morning's activities were plotted out. Doohickey, Monterey and Drywall would get in touch with V. W. Beetle while Chip and Gadget met with Mr Tanner in an effort to locate the artist Philippe. Though, as the two parties prepared to take respective transports into town, Dale broached upon a matter of interest to him.
"I hope some of you get back soon, I'd like to take Foxy to town to do some sightseeing," he pointed out, "y'know, just the two of us."
Chip stopped to ponder the matter for a moment. He soon seized upon it as a reason to bring up something that had crossed his mind the previous night. Motioning his fiancé over, he brought forward a suggestion. After some discussion, she agreed with the idea of moving their operations to her workshop in town, at least during the day, to save time during investigations and allow those not actively engaged to find something interesting to do in town without being stranded at the mill. In short order, everyone else soon prepared to depart for Doohickey's workshop from whence they could move on to whatever it is they chose or needed to do. Once at her workshop, Doohickey set her assistant, William, to work setting up space for her guests.
Outside a small abandoned train depot, with the lettering for East Salamanca still visible after years of weathering, the Ranger Wing set down behind some bushes. Two mice and a weasel soon disembarked and approached a cluster of rocks abutting the structure's stone foundation. The party stopped at an small opening between a couple of the rocks.
Kneeling down near the aperture, Doohickey shouted in, "Verne, are you in? It's me, Doohickey!"
"Maybe he's not in," Monterey conjectured after some waiting, "Do you know where he might be off to, if he were so motivated?"
"Might be at the Hole in the Wall'," Doohickey ventured, standing up, "Though he usually doesn't stop by there till later in the afternoon."
As the two rodents conversed about the insect's whereabouts, Drywall was becoming ever more intrigued by the possibility of something being behind all those stones. He ventured closer and closer.
Doohickey eventually took note of the weasel's encroachment upon the residence, and was startled to see that he was preparing stick his snout right into the hole. "Drywall! Don't!"
But before the mustelid could heed the hurried warning, his nose brushed one of the stones, shifting it slightly. Suddenly, a cloud of greenish fumes spewed out from the pile of rocks. Having foreseen this scenario, Doohickey leapt back and grabbed a cloth from her jumpsuit to cover her nose. Monterey wasn't as quick and caught a whiff of the putrid stench. "GAACH!!" he belched out in disgust as he hiked his turtleneck over his snout. Drywall, unfortunately, got some of it right up his nose. Squealing in aromatic agony, he wheeled about pawing frantically at his nose trying to beat the scent out.
"Strike me starkers!" Monterey gasped, "What was that?!"
"Verne's home security system," Doohickey mumbled from beneath her cloth, "I designed the release mechanism, he came up with the stench." As she heard Drywall lose his breakfast into a pile of dead leaves, she remarked with disturbing cheeriness, "It's always so much more gratifying to see your invention perform as expected in the real world than during a trial run, it provides such a sense of accomplishment!"
"That stench reminds me of Zozo the Stink Beetle. Why, that invertebrate cold secrete an odor that could actually melt steel!" Monterey proceeded to recount, oblivious to the fact that Drywall had not only recovered from his encounter but had begun to wander off, "He helped me an' Geegaw out of a bind in Java when we were captured by a tribe of-"
Monterey's story was cut short as Drywall bolted screaming between Doohickey and himself, knocking both onto their backsides. The screaming weasel was immediately followed by a small swarm of angry hornets.
Doohickey remarked in obvious annoyance, "How much you wanna bet he stuck his nose in their nest."
"Makes ya' wonder how the lad's survived this long," Monterey commented.
The Ranger Plane, with Chip and Gadget aboard, stealthily maneuvered through the foliage of an elm standing near the warehouse of a beer distributer. Landing on a branch close to the trunk, the two rodents disembarked and made their way down. After reaching the ground they proceeded to the rodents' entry, which was concealed by a pile of discarded bricks, near the base of the humans' structure. Once inside, they found an employee and were promptly directed to Richard Tanner's office.
Maneuvering their way along the passages, occasionally having to stand aside to let porters by with their wheel barrows of wine or bags of seed or nuts, Chip and Gadget located the slip of cloth that constituted the door to the office. "Mr Tanner?" Chip asked politely, pulling aside makeshift curtain. Within, the businessmouse was seated at a miniature desk looking over some papers, the wall behind almost completely made up of a blackboard covered with various symbols and slashes whose meaning were known only to their creator.
"Oh, Chip, Gadget," Tanner spoke up cheerily after looking up from his work, "Come in!"
Just as Chip and Gadget entered the office, a young female mouse burst in and quickly got around them. "Mr Tanner," she piped urgently, "I was double checking inventory in storage annex B-1 and noticed some of the seed packets have gone bad."
"How many?" Tanner asked.
"Ok, have Jerry take them out to the burn-pit to be disposed of and tell Herb to get in touch with the squirrels over on Academy about getting some fresh seed," Tanner ordered promptly.
"Standard offer?" the young lady inquired, to which her employer replied with a nod.
"You have to excuse her," Tanner stated once the youth had flown from his office, "Della takes her work very seriously and seems to run on double espressos... either she'll end up running this place in a few years or exploding. Now how can I help you?"
"We were wondering if you've had any contact with a French rat named Philippe Marie- Suzon," Chip queried.
"Yes, I have. In fact, he did this painting for me as payment for some wine," Tanner replied, motioning to a portrait of the Greek god of wine hung on the wall to his right. "Do you suspect him of some kind of wrongdoing?"
"Oh, no," Chip replied, "Not yet at least. We're hoping he might have some information that has some bearing on the investigation we're doing... unfortunately we don't know where to find him."
"I wish I could help you out in that respect," Tanner responded, "He has a couple frogs come by here to drop off his payment, artwork usually, and pick up his wine."
"Could you-" Chip started before being cut off by Della who stormed into the office and pushed past him. Not one to let someone interrupt him so rudely, he pulled her out of the way to continue the dialogue, at which point he learned Della wasn't one to let someone prevent her from performing her job as swiftly and efficiently as possible. Throwing her full weight into the effort, the relatively diminutive mouse shoved the grown chipmunk out of the office, his hat toppling off as he flew.
"Della!" Mr Tanner scolded, "That cold have been a very important business contact you just threw out of my office!"
Her expression of seriousness being replaced by one of utter shock, Della dove out of the office and promptly shoved Chip back in. For his part, Chip still wasn't quite sure what was happening. Picking up the chipmunk's hat from the floor, Della brushed it off and returned it to it's rightful place atop his head. She then politely stood aside.
"Chip," Tanner stated, "You were saying..."
"Right," Chip started as his train of thought returned to it's previous track, "Could you ask the frogs where they're taking Philippe's deliveries?"
"I did when they brought up the offer, so that I could have my own people make the delivery," Tanner answered, "But they were adamant that the master' didn't want to be disturbed by the incompetence of other's flunkies'. I didn't press the matter at the time."
"Perhaps we could just follow them after they come for the next pick-up," Gadget suggested.
Chip thought it over. "No," he decided, "If they're really all that intent on their boss not being disturbed they might get little concerned if they notice anyone tailing them."
"What about sending someone from here with the delivery, as an escort," Della spoke up eagerly, "Just as an added guarantee that the product arrives safely, thus limiting the possibility of customer dissatisfaction."
Tanner digested the suggestion for a moment. "It might wash easier if it sounded more urgent, less of an add-on' and more of a business necessity," he postulated.
"Someone had made threats against your interests and may target you shipments to hurt your business," Chip suggested.
"Recently received complaints from other recipients about receiving damaged goods," Tanner brought up, "We're sending observers with all non-employed couriers to verify proper handling of the goods in transit."
"That sounds plausible," Chip agreed.
"I'll have Bob go along with them when they come by in a few hours," Tanner explained, "Della, I want you to explain this to them, it'll seem less suspicious coming from someone further down the business ladder, sound more like a new general policy."
"What if they disagree?" Della inquired, hoping to work out any problems ahead of time.
"Tell Bob to convince them," Tanner suggested, "gently."
When Chip and Gadget returned to Doohickey's workshop from their meeting with Mr Tanner they were greeted by the sight of Monterey Jack plastering Drywall with pink goop. Noticing how their attention was focused on the scene, Doohickey explained, "Stuck his head in a hornets' nest."
"Yeah, but this salve my mum always used should get the swelling down in no time!" Monterey declared.
"Found out anything about that compound?" Chip inquired.
"Nah," Doohickey replied as she gathered some parts together at a workbench, "Verne wasn't home, we'll check for him at his favorite watering hole as soon as Drywall doesn't look so much like a pile of welts," then added, after looking up at the pink plastered weasel, "or a blob of sentient bubble gum."
"We're waiting to hear back from Bob about where Philippe is having his wine delivered," Gadget pointed out, reciprocating the case critical information.
Doohickey had started constructing something, whose purpose was not readily apparent to anyone watching, from the parts she had gathered when Dale wandered over to her. "Dee?" he asked politely.
Dee made a noise that roughly amounted to, "Uh-huh?" without looking up.
"Do you know anyplace romantic that I might be able to take Foxy?" Dale inquired.
"Armories can be romantic," Dee mumbled, "Aren't any in town, though."
"Huh?" Dale replied, not entirely sure if she knew what he had asked.
"What?" Dee replied in turn, finally looking up from her project.
"Where can I take Foxy that's romantic?" Dale asked again.
"Oh, um," Dee blurted as she thought, "I think there's a park out behind St Pat's church just south of here, near the river. Just look for a red brick church."
Once Dale had thanked her and sped off, Chip, who had observed the whole exchange, asked his fiancé in an amused tone, "You think armories are romantic?"
"Yeah," Dee shrugged as she tried to return her focus to her work, "especially if they're the older kind." She then looked up and added, in a detached and dreamy way, "You know, with swords and armor... antique cannons..."
"Maybe for our honeymoon we can go on a tour of European castles," Chip suggested lightly.
"Oooooh!!" Dee cooed, clasping her paws together excitedly.
Before Dee's enthusiasm for an eventual honeymoon could lead her to engaging in inappropriate behavior with her future husband in front of others, there came a knock at the door. "Ms Hawkfeather, are you in?" the visitor called out through the closed entrance.
"Come on in," Dee ordered, "It's open." Two male mice entered her workshop. As she looked them over they appeared slightly familiar, but she couldn't quite place them. "Need something built or repaired?" Dee asked.
"Actually," one of the males started, before motioning to himself and his companion, "We'fe got a disagreement between us and we were hoping you could help resolfe it, being our Clan Mother and all." Dee's eyes narrowed as she stared at the speaker. Then, as the other began to gruffly rattle off his version of what the disagreement was about, she shifted her gaze his way... his narrative slowly shuddered to a halt as he realized her obvious displeasure.
"I didn't ask to be a Clan Mother," Dee began to respond to the two visitors, "I don't want to be a Clan Mother," then finished through clenched teeth, "and I will not act as a Clan Mother!"
Seeing the stunned, and rather offended, faces of the two visitors, Chip decided to jump in. "Don't go anywhere," he advised to the two mice before taking hold of his fiancé and hustling her aside, stating, "We need to talk."
Before Chip had gotten her very far, Dee grabbed his jacket and pulled him around so they were face to face. "What?!" she demanded in a growl.
"Regardless of your feelings about whether or not you're a Clan Mother," Chip started, hoping to avoid making Doohickey any angrier than she already was, "These two people, members of the community, just came here with a problem and have asked you to help them. You had given me the impression that you were interested in being a Rescue Ranger, and you wouldn't be acting much like a Rescue Ranger if you blow them off as if they and their problem are so far beneath you that they deserve your outright contempt."
Dee glared at him. She was considering Chip's point, but didn't want to show it. She simply couldn't allow herself to make it appear that she might give ground. Regardless of how trivial the point might be, once Dee's ire was up, any disagreement was a challenge- a fight to be won. When her lips curled back, Chip expected the worst. "Fine!" Dee hissed, finally conceding defeat. She hated doing so, but did not want to hurt the her relationship with the chipmunk she loved. As Dee turned to address her fellow Clan members, doing her best to wipe the expression of anger form her face, Chip let out a sigh of relief.
Once Dee had motioned the two visitors aside to discuss the bone of contention between them, Chip went off to discuss a different matter to himself. He was having trouble grasping his love's aversion to accepting her new found status within her tribe. The fact that the situation had been foisted on her out of the blue without her views on the matter even being considered might have had something to do with it; Chip tried to consider what his response would have been had his being a Rescue Ranger been pushed on him with out his input or consent. But he presumed that Dee hadn't been asked about whether or not she wanted to be adopted into a wolf pack, yet she not only got the pack a tv but also a cable hook-up out in the middle of nowhere. The possibility that there might be matters of tribal politics that may have soured his fiancé's view of the matter that he would be utterly unaware of crossed his mind.
Chip had a couple hours, at least, until he heard from Bob about Philippe's
whereabouts. It appeared increasingly more worthwhile to meet with June Redtalon
in the meantime. Hopefully she could help him get a grip on why Doohickey would
get so belligerent over people regarding her as a Clan Mother.
Back to the stories