The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh

Chapter Thirteen

By the time Chip and Gadget returned from their visit with June Redtalon, Dee was just about done washing pink salve off of Drywall. For his part, the weasel looked particularly pathetic with his perpetually perplexed expression accented by masses of wet, matted fur. Chip and Gadget recounted for Dee what they had learned of her mother's past as she finished washing the weasel. Though she never particularly liked her Aunt Carol, the word ‘despise' was not necessarily an appropriate descriptor for how she regarded her... at least, not until her sister and fiancé finished their narrative. Her outrage was only heightened by the fact that so many people used to say that she took after her Aunt Carol.

"But I do agree with you on something," Chip redirected, "I don't think she spiked the soup at the Powwow. It just seems too trivial and prankish a thing for someone that mean- spirited."

"That's assuming belching was the intended outcome," Dee shrugged, remembering Chip having made that point earlier.

"And there's still the matter of motive," Chip added, "What was the person trying to accomplish?"

"Dee?" Gadget interrupted, "Where's Monty?"

"Oh, that salve he slathered all over Drywall consumed the last of the edible and potable resources available here at the workshop," Dee explained.

"You mean he cleaned out the pantry," Chip simplified.

"Exactly," Dee responded, "I sent him to the nearest supermarket to get more supplies."

No sooner had Dee explained the Aussie's whereabouts then he returned in a near panic. Setting the several bundles of groceries on the floor before him, Monty threw himself up against the closed door as if to bar it. "Ca-c-c-cat!!" he yelped in a burly manner, "Comin' after me!"

Dee was about to point out that there aren't any felines patrolling in the surrounding field due to an old agreement between the tribe and the local stray cat population until- WHAM!! The door flew open despite Monterey's mass being pinned against it... cheese, red sauce and a variety of other consumables were flung violently in a radial pattern around the entry. Within the doorway appeared the face of a familiar badger who stuck her head in, as much as her size allowed, and sniffed about intently.

"Hello, Ms Rose!" Gadget cheerfully greeted the unexpected visitor.

"Oh, hi," the large Clan Mother responded, then added after surveying the debris field, "Did I just demolish your groceries?" Everyone nodded. "Sorry," she responded, "I thought I caught the scent of my cheesy-squeezy guy."

"You mean Monty?" Chip inquired.

"Yup," the badger replied, "I guess I must have just smelled one of you bringing back the groceries." With one more apology for the mess, she departed, closing the door as she did. Monty, having been pinned to the wall by the door, flumped to the floor.

"That wasn't a cat, Monty," Gadget pointed out, "Just a love-smitten badger!"


"With all that cheese and ketchup splattered about it looked like you exploded!" Dee laughed to Monty as she piloted the Ranger Wing across town.

Monty chuckled halfheartedly at the thought. "She could at least have called out to see who it was rather than let me think I was being stalked by a cat!" he grumbled.

"Well where's the fun in that?" Dee jested, "She's a predator, it's part of her nature to stalk... she probably didn't even realize how you'd interpret it."

"I know it's in her nature to stalk," Monty pointed out, "But how am I s'posed to tell the difference between being stalked by a predator for food and being stalked for romance?"

"At least she didn't get right up behind you and give you a playful nip on the back of your neck," Dee replied, remembering a particularly shocking incident with Romulus years back, "unintentionally grabbing hold of your hair, keeping you from making a break for it." Once the aircraft had set down atop a downtown building, everyone disembarked. "Well, here we are," Dee declared unnecessarily, then adding in a more serious tone, "And try to behave yourself, Drywall."

Entering the rodent-run bar, The Hole in the Wall, at ground level, the trio went about trying to locate Verne Beetle. "Shoulda' asked Zipper to tag along," Monty lamented to himself, realizing how much easier to would be to spot someone in a crowded bar from above. Finding a mass of young female mice all clustered around a corner table, he decided to inquire with one of the ladies, "‘Scue me, luv, ‘ave you seen a beetle anywhere here abouts?"

Barely acknowledging his existence, the lass responded in a giddy tone, "The cutest beetle in the world!" She clarified, hopping excitedly and pointing over the heads of the ladies in front of her, "In there!"

Being too much of a gentlemouse to elbow his way through a throng of females, Monty muttered, "That's good enough fer me," and went off to locate Dee and Drywall.

Wasting little time, Dee proceeded to plow a path through the crowd, Monty sticking close behind to avoid the enveloping mass of femininity closing up between them. Drywall, initially glued to Monty's rear peering over his shoulder, simply could not stand the suspense and made his own way to the center of attention. From the wall of adoring young female mice, Verne was suddenly face-to-face with a male weasel. Being particularly terrified of mustelids, the beetle did the one thing he could think to do- scream.

"He won't eat you!" Dee shouted. Finally arriving at the center of the mob, she took a seat beside Verne... after having pushed another mouse out of the way.

"Hello, Dee," Verne chuckled nervously, adjusting his thick glasses, "you certainly are keeping some carnivorous company lately,"

"Sorry about Drywall, there," Dee replied apologetically. Getting down to business, she continued, "We need you to identify a chemical."

Monty handed over the paper package containing the distilled crystals. Verne opened the package and proceeded to investigate the contents. "Ooh! Hmm, quite interesting!" the beetle commented to himself as his antennae wheeled about, "Very fascinating! Never encountered anything like it!" Setting the package down on the table, Verne excused himself. Getting up from his seat, Dee and Monty noticed the miniature sneakers the insect was wearing on his hindmost pair of legs. Despite their scale, they were still comically oversized for his body. Not that it inhibited his mobility in any way, his hindmost legs (and sneakers) were a blur beneath him as he scurried upright over towards the bar. All the ladies let out a collective sigh of adoration as he went.

While at the bar, Verne grabbed a couple cocktail napkins and bummed a pencil off the bartender. Upon returning to his seat, once more to the sighs of his adoring clique, he quickly began to scribble on the napkins. "Never having encountered this unusual concoction before, I have no readily available name to refer to it by, so I'll just draw out the graphical formula for it," he explained, "I'm sure that'll provide all the information you'll need." As he completed the diagrams delineating the nature of the chemical, he added in a very grave voice, "But I should warn you, do not add this to water!"

Dee and Monty looked at each other. Looking back to Verne, Dee asked cautiously, "Why not?"

"Well, if one were to consume water tainted with this compound, it would produce spontaneous carbonation when it came into contact with stomach acid," Verne began, "and once the carbonation has passed, the chemical will have recombined to form a highly lethal poison... much like cyanide."

Blood ran cold for both Dee and Monty. "Are you absolutely certain?!" Dee inquired.

"Indeed," Verne replied, "the unique combination of impurities found in the municipal water supply would provide all the necessary extras to create the poisonous side effect."

"Municipal water supply," Doohickey repeated, as Monty began to feel faint, "You mean tap water."

"Correct," the beetle confirmed.

"But pure water's ok," Dee pressed further.

"Perfectly harmless," was Verne's response.

Dee's head fell to the table with a ‘bonk' as relief allowed the tension to leave her body. Monty, on the other hand, was unaware of the importance of Verne's last answer. "Is he ok?" a girl asked.

Dee looked around and saw the shape Monty was in. Grabbing his trench coat, she smacked him a couple times. "Monty, Monty! It's o-k!," she reassured him, "The soup was not poisonous, it was made with purified water! The cook's a little funny, he thinks using tap water in his soup is sacrilegious." After a little thought, she added, "Besides, if it had been made with tap water, you'd be long dead by now."

Releasing a long overdue sigh of relief, Monty began to fall back into a seat, which was quickly vacated by it's occupant.

"Verne, could you get my friend a shot of cheese sauce?" Dee asked.

"Certainly," the beetle replied, standing to leave for the bar.

"I'll get it for you!" one of the young ladies offered as she quickly turned for the bar.

"No, I'll get it!" another stated as she tried to hold the first back.

"Like h*** you will!" the first groupie shouted at her rival, grabbing her hair.

As the two young ladies had it out over who would get the cheese sauce for Verne, Verne scurried past and got it himself.

"Thanks rightly, mate!" Monty responded before downing the shot. While Dee was examining the diagrams on the cocktail napkins, Monty leaned over to Verne, who had resumed basking in the adoration of the multitude of young female mice. "Just outta' curiosity," he whispered, looking around at all the girls, "what's your secret?"

"Pheromones," Verne whispered his reply with a broad smile, "I produced some concentrated male mouse pheromones back at my lab and release them through little pumps in my sneakers!"

As Monty contemplated whether he should artificially augment his natural masculine appeal, 70's dance music started blaring in the human establishment overhead. "Ugh!" groaned one of the ladies, "Everyday, same time, he shows up!"

Another lady, sharing her disdain for that particular human, spouted off, "I wish they'd just ban him! Someone always winds up throwing him out anyway."

"Maybe they like throwing him out," Dee offered, tucking away the napkins.

"Check it out!" someone shouted from somewhere near the center of the bar, "It's John Travolta!"

"Can't be," another replied, "He's not that thin!"

As a growing mixture of cheers and laughter took hold of the patrons of the bar, and since they would be on their way out anyway, Dee and Monty rose from their seats to investigate the cause of the excitement. Neither took note that Drywall was nowhere to be seen... that is, until they arrived at the center of the disturbance. There, in the center of what oft times doubled as a dance floor (and was certainly being put to said use), suited up in a white leisure suit and utterly lost in the bliss of disco dancing, was Drywall.

"Crikey!" Monty declared, "The lad's got a full blown case of boogie fever!"

Shortly, the music came to an abrupt halt. This was quickly followed by the sounds of hurried footsteps form above as the instigator of the 70's revival was hurled from the establishment. Gradually, Drywall's moves ground to a halt and he was left staring anxiously about, drumming his fingers together. Wondering why all eyes seemed to be on him, the weasel looked down at himself. "Oh dear," he stated, "It happened again."

"What happened again?" Dee asked as she walked up to her compatriot.

"A disco episode," Drywall replied, "Whenever I hear the first strains of 70's dance music, I black out and when I come to... I'm wearing polyester."

Dee just stared at Drywall for awhile. Slowly, she turned to Monty. "I thought everyone was exaggerating about your ‘cheese attacks', Monty," the mouse stated, "But now I believe." Grabbing one of the enormous lapels of Drywall's suit, "Something this bizarre makes your cheese attacks seem logical!"

"Perhaps we should head on back," Monty suggested, "before anything else bizarre happens."

"Sounds good to me," Dee replied as she led the way out.

"Cheese attacks?" Drywall inquired.


About the time Dee, Monty and Drywall were preparing to return from their foray, Chip and Gadget departed for the presumed residence of Philippe Marie-Suzon. The Ranger Plane plied it's way north through the small hollow carved out by a tributary stream that flowed down into the city.

"That should be the clearing there," Gadget commented as they came to the end of the directions they'd been given by Bob.

"And that looks like the entrance to a burrow there," Chip added, spying a prominent cavity hollowed out of the face of a small embankment. Landing near the apparent entrance, the two rodents disembarked and cautiously approached. "Hello?" Chip shouted, "Is anybody in? We'd like to speak-"

"Non, non, et non!" came the angry reply from within the tunnel. A clearly outraged frog quickly emerged. "Ze monsieur cannot, must not be interrupted!" the amphibian ordered, "Least of all for whatever foolish, trivial matter philistines like yourselves might have in your puny minds!"

"Golly, there's no need to be insulting!" Gadget retorted, "We'd just like to ask him a few questions and be on our way."

Just as the doorfrog was preparing to unleash retaliatory tirade, Philippe barreled up behind him form the burrow and shoved him aside like so much rubbish... right into Chip. Chipmunk and frog careened into the ground as the rat addressed Gadget. "My apologies, ma cherie, for ze short-sighted attitude of my assistant," Philippe stated, giving Gadget's paw a reverent kiss, "He does not realize zat, as an arteest, I live for beauty in all eet's forms, so your arrival could not possibly be an interruption, but a calling to witness greater beauty than even my skilled paws could produce!"

"Well, now that we've established that this isn't an interruption," Chip butted in, having recovered from his close encounter of the green kind, "We'd like to ask you a few questions."

Continuing to gaze upon Gadget's loveliness, he knelt down before her so to be eye-to- eye and replied, "You may ask me... anyzing." For Gadget's part, she couldn't help but be flattered by the rat's attention.

"Did you see anything unusual at the Powwow?" Chip asked, hoping Philippe would acknowledge the question even if it hadn't come from Gadget.

"Only ze most magnificent creation of Nature's hand," he sighed, gently running his fingers along Gadget's cheek, causing her to blush considerably.

"R-right," Chip drawled, wondering if he would ever get a useful answer out of the artist, "Did any of your, uh, assistants see anything out of the ordinary... besides Gadget?"

"Zey are not all my assistants," Philippe corrected, finally standing. He continued, his voice rising in tone and volume as he spoke, "But followers, acolytes, devotees of my GREATNESS!" He finished his declaration by beating a clenched fist to his chest proudly.

"Uh-huh," Chip replied slowly, wondering if he should perhaps move aside to give the rat's ego more room, "But did they see anything?"

"‘Ow should I know?" Philippe shrugged, "nor should I care!"

"Then may I ask them myself?" Chip inquired.

"Whatever," Philippe blithely dismissed, once more enamored by Gadget's beauty. Chip had just turned to enter the borrow in search of the frog that had wandered inside when he was startled by an ungodly scream from Philippe. Turning back, he witnessed the rat falling to his knees, his paws up upon his head. Gadget was clearly just as startled as Chip as she backed away. "What eez ZAT!!" Philippe hollered, jutting his arms out towards the aircraft in which Chip and Gadget arrived.

"That's the Ranger Plane," Gadget pointed out in reference to the semi-dirigible: a bleach bottle with wings suspended under a balloon standing upright upon two spindly plunger legs, "I built it myself out of refuse from a garbage heap and pieces of my Dad's old plane."

"Of course!" Philippe cried, turning to face Gadget, "Such genius merged with such beauty!" Jumping to his feet, he began to race towards the craft, then stopped. "It flies?" he asked, looking back to Gadget.

"Well, of course," the inventor replied, pleasantly surprised that anyone would take such interest in her creation, "that's how we got here!"

"Zis ees ze greatest masterpiece of utilitarian art I have ever seen!" Philippe declared before bounding over to the vehicle. Gadget followed behind excitedly.

Chip was becoming a little wary of Philippe, not sure whether he was simply an eccentric or a borderline psychotic. Given the possibilities, he wasn't sure he wanted to leave Gadget alone with him to go interrogate Philippe's following. However, Chip knew Gadget was quite capable of handling dangerous situations, after all, she had singlehandedly taken on and defeated the militant wing of the Cola Cult... one screwball rat shouldn't pose too great a threat. Placing his concerns on the shelf for the moment, he ventured into the darkness.

After traversing the length of the tunnel, lit only by the sunlight coming from behind, Chip emerged in what he always assumed an artist's studio would look like, provided it was underground of course. The cavernous studio, lit by numerous candles, was littered with various stereotypical artistic implements such as easels, brushes, buckets of paint, etc. Intermingled with these familiar items were what appeared to be heaps of nondescript garbage. Whether any of it was indeed garbage, future art materials, or object d'art themselves Chip wasn't completely certain. Occasionally he spied a heap that seemed more vertical than horizontal, these he assumed were statues of some kind. Off in one corner was a pile of blankets and rags just large enough for a rat to stretch out on. Must be his bed, Chip thought to himself. He didn't dare get too close, it seemed to be a breeding ground for all manner of unsanitary things.

Chip did, indeed, find some of Philippe's admirers. However, none were particularly polite in their responses to his entreaties for information. The few real answers he received were usually curt and to the point, and never very informative. Chip, unfortunately, could not discern whether their uncooperative attitudes were intentional evasiveness due to having something to hide or merely their intense displeasure at the gall of this outsider who dared violate their master's inner sanctum.

Outside, Philippe was busily admiring Gadget's engineering genius that was the Ranger Plane as Gadget looked on, thrilled that someone was taking such intense interest in her handiwork. "Oh, I should warn you-" Gadget tried to warn the rat as he leaned far over into the pilot's seat. But before the warning could be adequately delivered, that being not to fiddle with the controls, Philippe began fiddling with the controls. A panel on the fuselage just over the rim of the dashboard popped open and a long spring propelled bludgeon flew out, attached at it's base to a hinge at the top of the dashboard. WHAM-WHAM-WHAM!! Philippe leapt back before his head could be further assaulted by the flailing feature.

"Mon dieu!" the Frenchrat declared as he fell on his backside, covering his head, "Zis reminds me of ze time I ran wiz ze bulls in Trampolaña!"

"That was my security system," Gadget piped up, "I call it ‘the club'!"

Philippe chortled, in as much as the pain allowed, "Such a truly marvelous take on ze humans' ludicrously named device!" Taking in the full spectacle of the machine before him, he was overwhelmed by his admiration for the mouse standing nearby. "COME! I must show you my studio!" he declared, "Allons y!" Grabbing Gadget's paw, he raced off for the tunnel. Once within the subterranean artist's flat, Philippe began showing Gadget about, oblivious to Chip's presence.

When most of the frogs in the vicinity were joining in on the guided tour, busily commenting on Philippe's genius and how lucky Gadget was to be given the honor of viewing his works, Chip felt compelled to do some snooping. He couldn't help the feelings of suspicion aroused by the frogs' attitudes towards his questions. The curious chipmunk quietly leafed through reams of drawing paper, peaked beneath shrouds and other coverings and smelling any liquids that he couldn't immediately identify. Chip soon came upon a work area that had been segregated from the other works. Everything within the area spoke of Gadget... sketches, illustrations, poses, even crude clay models. Chip couldn't help but admire the sheet covered with various facial expressions, nor could he avoid the concern by such an immediate obsession with his friend. He was about to peak beneath another shroud when he noticed the group inching his way. Chip stepped aside and looked for other things to investigate.

Gadget let out an astonished gasp as she was directed to the artistic ‘shrine' that her comrade had recently been perusing. "That's me!" she stated, "At least, I think it's me. It could be Dee, since we do look exactly alike. But then again you've never seen her with before her hair was cut."

"Eet could be none ozer zan you," Philippe sighed, "Ever since you crossed my path days ago, I have been haunted by your beauty!" Looking back at his sketches, he continued, "Ah, but none of zis compares to ze perfection wrought by Nature's own hands when she brought you forth into zis undeserving world."

"What's under here?" Gadget asked innocuously as she began to lift up the same shroud Chip had been curious about previously.

"NON!" Philippe declared, placing himself between Gadget and the work. "I cannot allow your eyes to be offended by a project which is less zan perfected," he explained.

Chip noticed what appeared to be a second tunnel leading away from the main studio, and was about to venture within when a frog emerged before him. "What are you doing ‘ere, you trespassing fool?!" shouted the frog, "Zis eez no place for you! Be gone!"

"What eez zis?" Philippe inquired.

"Zis miserable ball of fur is trespassing, monsieur Flippy!" the frog proclaimed.

"‘Ow many times must I tell you never call me by zat ridiculous NAME!?" Philippe bellowed as he grabbed hold of the amphibian. The rat proceeded to mercilessly beat the pathetic frog, much to the horror of his guests.

"STOP THAT!" Gadget hollered as she tried to pull Philippe back.

In a flash, Philippe noticed Gadget's efforts and dropped the hapless frog. With unsettling speed, the rat regained his composure and smiled benevolently down at her, even as his victim crawled off with the one arm he could still use. "Ah, but I see eet eez time for you and your compatriot to depart," Philippe stated, "I will not insist that you stay longer, as eet would be an unforgivable crime to deny ze rest of ze world ze opportunity to be witness to your beauty." Neither Chip or Gadget disputed whether or not they should leave, the studio had become a very uncomfortable place.

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