The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh
It hadn't been long after Dee, Monty and Drywall had left The Hole in the Wall' that Dale and Foxglove showed up. After their time in the park Dale had suggested they stop in for a drink and listen to some tunes, maybe even do a little dancing if the spirit moved them. It had been a bit of a walk in the summer sun, so the chance to duck into a dark and cool locale was quite welcome.
The couple had just finished a round when some loud music started up. For his part, Dale didn't mind, he often listened to rock music much louder anyway. But for Foxglove, however, it was a different matter. She tried to limit the impact of the sound by repositioning her ears away from the originating source, but eventually opted to simply cover over her ear canals by lowering her ears down along the sides of her head.
Noticing a couple mice taking to the floor to dance, Dale spouted, "Hey, that looks like fun!" Turning to his date, he asked, "You wanna dance?" As Foxglove thought the matter over, Dale realized she was clearly uncomfortable. She was forcing a smile, not wanting to bring down Dale's good time. "Um, maybe we should return to the workshop," Dale offered, not wanting to add to Foxy's discomfort, "Maybe the others have gotten a lead or something."
"If you want," Foxglove replied in a neutral tone hoping to avoid sounding too anxious to leave.
As the pair proceeded out of the establishment, two pairs of eyes followed them. Two males, a mouse and rat, sized up the couple: the lady was quite pretty, for a bat, and her escort seemed to be too much of a doofus to be any trouble. They soon tailed the pair outside. One of the pursuers couldn't help himself and shouted out, "That's some walk you got there sweetheart!"
"Dale," Foxy muttered to her companion with a hint of concern.
"Just ignore the jerk, Foxy," the chipmunk advised as they continued along the sidewalk.
"They're following us," the bat pointed out, noting the sound of their footsteps behind them.
"We're just trying to be friendly," the other pursuer piped up. The two then jogged forward to close the distance some before slowing back down to a walk.
"Dale, we should do something," Foxglove pleaded as she took hold of one of his paws, as much as her wing could do so. Then she heard the footsteps suddenly quicken. Foxglove turned her head about just as the mouse put a paw on her shoulder.
"We'd just like a chance to get to know you a little better," the mouse sneered as he pulled the lady about.
"I'm not interested," Foxglove stated sternly, pushing the mouse's paw aside and turned back around.
"C'mon, there's no need to be like that!" the mouse replied, grabbing Foxy's wings and pinning them to her sides.
"Hey!" the startled bat protested.
"The lady said she wasn't interested!" Dale proclaimed, grabbing one of the mouse's arms.
Pulling that arm back, the mouse placed his palm squarely in the middle of Dale's chest and shoved him aside. "This has nothing to do with you," he declared.
Having a wing free, Foxy was about to elbow the mouse in the stomach, but held back when she saw Dale crouch down in preparation to strike. The mouse, having dismissed the chipmunk as some kind of pansy, wasn't in the least prepared as the pansy' collided with his mid- section like a furry linebacker. The two tumbled for a space before righting themselves.
"Dale!" Foxy yelled as fists started flying. But before she could make any effort to assist her love, the rat held her back.
"Let's let them resolve this like gentlemen," he stated, holding Foxy in place in front of him.
"Resolfe this!" the rat heard someone growl loudly from behind him. He looked back in time to get a closeup view of a set of knuckles. The rat released Foxglove as he struggled to regain his balance following Bob's initial blow. However, before he could prepare to fight back, the infuriated security mouse grabbed hold of him and flung him off the curb and into the street. The rat had just enough time to stand before a bus passed behind him, close enough for the tires to brush against the tip of his tail. Any fight he had left drizzled out of him as he stood shaking on the pavement. Acting solely on instinct, the terrified rat scrabbled up onto the curb and tore off down the sidewalk as quickly as his four limbs could carry him, his nails scraping loudly against the cement as he ran.
"Get back here and help me you chicken****!" shouted the rat's compatriot, now firmly held by Dale in a headlock.
"You'd be runnin' too in his place!" Dale growled at his opponent. Giving the lowlife's neck a little squeeze, the chipmunk continued, "Now, I think you owe the lady an apology, right?"
When the rude rodent hesitated out of pure unmitigated arrogance, Dale gave an extra little squeeze. "Gck! All right, all right," the mouse croaked, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have behaved the way I did... a lady like you deserves to be treated a lot better."
Dale let up on the mouse and gave him a shove down the sidewalk. "Now get lost!" he ordered, then added, making it up as he went, "And don't let me catch you treating any other ladies like that!" The mouse simply walked off, stroking his neck.
"Oh, Dale," Foxy shouted as she embraced her defender, "You were magnificent!"
"Yeah, I guess I was, wasn't I," Dale responded.
"You probably coulda' handled both of them on your own," Bob added.
"Not to sound ungrateful or anything," Dale began to Bob, "But aren't you supposed to be at work?"
"I am at work," Bob replied, "I'm on my way back from escorting a wine delivery to that rat Dee and Chip were looking for." After a brief exchange of farewells, the trio parted company.
Dale and Foxglove returned to Doohickey's workshop in time to meet Chip and Gadget returning from their visit to Philippe's studio. After standard greetings, they went inside where Dee, Monty Zipper and Drywall making themselves busy with various projects or activities.
"So," Dee began, looking up at the new arrivals, "Find out anything from the rat-frog?"
"We were just about to ask you what you found out about that chemical," Chip replied. Closing the door as he spoke, it resisted his exertions. Looking back, he witnessed Raven and Fangs materialize out of thin air within the doorframe.
"Hey-hey, the gang's all here!" Dale chimed in as the two late arrivals made their way in.
"Where exactly were the two of you going that required your being invisible?" Chip asked his future stepdaughter in a voice brimming with suspicion.
"Sightseeing," the girl responded cooly, "Fangs and I usually go around invisible if we're alone."
"Okay," Chip conceded slowly. Turning to his fiancé, he continued, "Since you, Monty and Drywall went out first, maybe you should go recount what you learned first."
Dee inhaled deeply as she prepared to explain what they'd been told by Verne, but Monty beat her to the punch. "We dodged one nasty bullet at the Powwow, mate," the Aussie pointed out, "That's what we learned."
As Chip looked between the two mice in confusion, Dee elaborated, "That chemical that we found in the corn soup would have been lethal had the soup been made with tap water."
"It's a poison?" Gadget asked in concern.
"It could be," Dee responded, pulling the cocktail napkin from a pocket. Handing the graphical information to her sister, she continued to the others, "Had the soup been made with tap water, once the carbonation had been run it's course- after all the belching, what was left of the chemical would have recombined with the impurities in the water in a way that would make it as toxic as cyanide."
"You think it's possible whoever spiked the soup planned to kill people?" Chip inquired.
Dee merely shrugged. "No way to know," she eventually stated, "yet."
"This is really strange," Gadget remarked as she continued her examination of the napkin.
"That beetle said he'd never seen anything like it," Monty pointed out.
Chip thought things over. "Whoever put that in the soup either knew it was potentially poisonous but didn't know the soup wasn't made with tap water," he speculated aloud, "Knew it was potentially poisonous but knew it was safe in the soup, meaning whoever it was had to know how the soup was made, or had no complete knowledge of the potential outcome and put it in the soup to find out."
"In that last case," Dee chimed in, "Whoever did this might have assumed the soup was made with tap water and now thinks the chemical is harmless when added to it."
"Well, if people start dropping after belching we'll know that's what happened," Raven pointed out.
"But," Gadget joined in, having finished her examination, "If this is a rare compound, then wouldn't the person that created it have at least some idea what might happen when it was added to water, purified or not? I would think it would be a little unlikely for some amateur to come up with something this unusual by accident... though it's not completely unthinkable, whoever did it could be some kind of savant, or perhaps a prodigy-"
"Wa-a-ait," Dale intervened, "If whoever did this just wanted a body count, why didn't he just use regular old poison?"
"Dale has a point," Chip stated.
"I do?" Dale piped up, "I mean, I do!"
"Somebody likely went through a lot of trouble to create this," Chip went on, "And like Gadget said, whoever it was has to be fairly intelligent, so it seems unlikely that they'd be so careless as to just assume the soup would be made of tap water."
"At the very least they would've checked the soup's content beforehand just to make sure there wasn't anything in it that would prevent the chemical from working as intended," Dee added.
"A basic poison would be far more effective for creating the desired body count without some minor something getting in the way," Chip finished.
"Assuming whoever it was' didn't just steal it form whoever created it in the first place," Monty pointed out, "and dumped it in the soup just to see what it would do."
"You're right," Chip sighed, "I'll feel much better once we find out the who' behind this and what their motive was."
"Or warn them before they accidentally poison themselves or someone else," Gadget added.
The group became quiet, lingering on the weighty issue of a possible poisoner on the loose. For Dee, the atmosphere was simply too dark. "We also discovered that Drywall suffers from disco episodes'," she pointed out.
"Disco episodes?" was the universal response.
"Whenever the lad hears disco music he goes all bonzer loco and begins to boogie down," Monty explained.
"I have a problem," Drywall confessed meekly.
"I'll say!" Raven proclaimed.
The thought of a disco episode' was intriguing to Dale, and he discreetly went in search of a radio, hoping he could find a local station that catered to those lost in the seventies. "What did you find out about Philippe?" Dee inquired, oblivious, as were the others, to Dale's quest.
"He has an unhealthy fixation on Gadget," Chip stated coldly.
"I wouldn't necessarily say it's unhealthy'," Gadget countered, "I would consider what he did to that poor frog to be unhealthy."
"Well, most savage beatings are, Gadget," Chip pointed out.
"What'd he do?" Dee asked.
"One of his frogs, one of a throng of adoring fans, called him Flippy'," Chip proceeded to explain, "He absolutely went nuts and began to pound the daylights out of him! He stopped when Gadget intervened and behaved like nothing had happened."
"Sounds like the lad's a few colors short of a full palette t'me," Monterey commented.
"Did you find out anything useful?" Raven inquired.
"Not really," Chip responded, "He was too busy flirting with Gadget to be bothered with questions and most of his disciples were uncooperative to say the least. I did a little snooping around but couldn't find much, partly because there was so much trash strewn about and because one of his frogs stopped me from investigating a room that was off to the side."
"That was the one who made the unfortunate slip of the tongue," Gadget clarified, "Philippe suggested we leave after he'd beaten him."
"Certainly sounds to me like he was trying to hide something," Dee intoned.
Before Chip could explain to his love that there wasn't any apparent connection between Philippe and the incident at the Powwow, the workshop was filled with loud seventies dance music. The next thing Chip knew, he was Drywall's dance partner. Looking about determinedly, the bewildered chipmunk searched for the source of the music. When he found it, there was Dale, rolling around on the floor, laughing hysterically. Chip was spared the effort of trying to escape Drywall's boogie fever as Gadget made her way to the radio and soon silenced the dance inducing disco.
"Dale, I think it's very inappropriate to be exploiting Drywall's condition like that!" Gadget scolded.
As the door to the workshop flew open, everyone's attention was drawn away from the spectacle of the dancing weasel and the shameful chipmunk. Framed by the doorway was Philippe's scraggily form. "Ah! I ave found ze studio of ze genius Gadget!" he stated as he strode in toting a large flat object covered in a paint spattered sheet.
"It's my studio you dipstick!" Dee protested.
Completely, and intentionally, ignoring Dee's declaration, Philippe proceeded to address her sister. "Your visit today inspired me to complete, what till now, has been my greatest masterpiece!" Setting his rectangular parcel on one of the wide ends, he continued, "I could not for a moment deprive your beautiful eyes ze opportunity to witness the majesty of what your inspiration has brought me- non, forced me to create! Zerefore, I present you..." with a flourish, he whisked of the sheet and declared, "Ze Birth of Gadget'!"
Everyone's jaws dropped as they beheld the painting. In the center of the artistic rendering, rising from on open toolbox, was Gadget, her golden locks billowing in the wind. On the left flew two winged angels who looked remarkably similar to Dale and Foxglove while on the right a conservatively clad earthly maiden, looking a great deal like Doohickey, was rushing over to cover her sister with a floral cloak. However, it was not the artistic competence portrayed in the work that was cause for the dropped jaws, it was what Gadget was portrayed as wearing... which was nothing. It was Botticelli's Birth of Venus' with minor changes. Releasing a startled shriek, Gadget raced over and plastered herself to the canvas, which was nearly as large as herself in an effort to conceal her unclad portrait.
Being unable to conceive of any other reaction to his work from the object of his desire, Philippe interpreted Gadget's response as positively ecstatic. Sighing contentedly, Philippe explained to Gadget, "Eet ees always gratifying to see one's work so warmly accepted! Ah, but how could eet not? Eet was ze product of my unparalleled genius inspired by your unparalleled beauty!" Letting go of the painting, he left it to Gadget, who awkwardly carried it over to the nearest wall to set it against (the unoffending reverse facing outward).
"Nobody could possibly accept such filth warmly!" William spoke out loudly, in the closest thing to anger anyone had seen in the otherwise reserved British squirrel, "First to have barged in without knocking, then to show no consideration at all to the lady who manages this business, and in the height of poor taste, portray her sister, before her friends and family, in a practically pornographic manner in a scene purloined from an artist far superior to yourself!"
Puffing out his chest, Philippe responded to William's harangue, "Hah! What would a Briton know about taste? Now go scurry off and put ketchup on... everyzing!" Addressing the others in general, he continued, "And to zink any artist could be greater zan myself ees nozing but foolishness! I am ze greatest arteest ever! All ozers are mere imitators- I did not steal ze idea from him, he stole eet from moi!"
Crossing his arms in contempt, Chip challenged him, "And how do you figure that? Botticelli died hundreds of years before you were born while the idea you claim he stole from you was just painted."
"Ah, but I would not expect your puny American mind to comprehend ze facts behind what has transpired, but I shall explain just for ze pleasure of watching the words pass over your head like so many tweeting birds!" Philippe replied arrogantly, "Mozer Nature adores symmetry! All zings have zeir equal and opposite... Zere is no light wizout dark, no up wizout down, no forward wizout ze moving backwards. Zerefore, ze time, she cannot move forward wizout also moving backwards. Zose people you so foolishly call artistic geniuses' have only ze gift of seeign zis backwards moving time and remember' ze works zat I have created. Zese artists', being unable to comprehend zat zese are memories, mistake zem for inspiration."
"That's the stupidest thing I have ever heard!" Raven loudly proclaimed.
Glaring at the youth, and clenching his fist defiantly, Philippe had gotten no farther than one step before Dee growled, "Lay one finger on that girl and I'll break your legs!"
"Pardon?" Philippe asked, "Did somebody just pass gas?"
Dee vaulted over her workbench only to be snared in mid air by Monterey Jack. Both mice went tumbling onto the floor while several onlookers pressed in to assist. In the confusion, no one was keeping an eye of Philippe.
That is, until Gadget figured enough was enough. "Philippe?" she called out, trying to locate the rat. He obediently entered her presence. "I think you should really be going," she stated as more of a command than a suggestion.
"Because eet would please you, I shall go," Philippe replied in a suave manner, then, stooping to kiss her paw, declared, "Until we meet again, ma cherie!" The rat then departed as Gadget grabbed a rag with which to wipe off her paw.
Once the offending presence had vacated the workshop, Monty and Chip finally released Dee, confident there was no longer an imminent threat of her committing aggravated ratslaughter. Otherwise everyone milled about, commenting on the unsettling events that had just transpired. Eventually, Dee wandered over to the painting. Pulling it away from the wall to examine it. She noticed that the portrayal was quite flattering to both Dale and Foxglove's physiques, then she realized Philippe's interpretation of herself. "That worthless piece of toe-cheese! How dare he paint me like this?!"
Chip groaned as he walked over to see what his love's concern was, hoping he could calm her down before anything, or anyone, wound up in itty-bitty pieces.
"Look at this!" Dee commanded as Chip approached. "Look at Gadget, then look at me," she stated, motioning towards their respective images in the painting. Chip was actually a little embarrassed to be looking at Gadget in such circumstances and only provided a fleeting glance. But, as he examined Dee's portrayal, he thought he noticed the source of her indignation. "I look like Olive Oyle compared to Gadget in this!" Dee argued, "I should be every bit as curvaceous! We have practically the same body, after all!"
"Dear," Chip sighed, "I don't think this is really worth getting this upset over. Besides, if you're going to be upset over something, I would think it'd be that big hairy wart he put on your nose."
Dee leaned in for a closer look, and noticed what Chip had seen much earlier. "That frog gave me a WART?!"
"I though toads were supposed to give people warts," Dale commented innocuously, something he regretted when he noticed Dee glaring at him.
"Where's my crossbow?" Dee asked rhetorically as she made her way towards a side room.
"You're not planning to hurt Dale with it, are you?" Foxglove asked as she embraced her sweetie protectively.
"Of course not," Doohickey dismissed calmly as she went, "I'm going to kill Philippe."
Chip intercepted his fiancé before she could retrieve any weaponry. Steering her over towards her workbench, he addressed her in a soothing manner, "There are other ways, more productive ways, to work out your anger. I'm sure once you get yourself into some inventing, preferably of something nonlethal, you'll forget all about this." As he set her down on a stool, she toppled over.
Howling in anger, Dee grabbed the stool. It was then that she realized a leg was missing. "And he also apparently stole a leg from one of my stools," she commented to Chip from her place on the floor.
"I suppose this is as good a time as any," Fangs broached slowly, "to point out that Raven and I overheard quite a few people talking about various unimportant things disappearing from their homes and businesses while we were out sightseeing... things like chair legs and such."
"Come to think of it," Chip thought aloud as he helped Dee off the floor, "That would explain some of the trash' I found littering Philippe's studio."
"Sounds like someone should go over his studio again," Raven posited.
"I'll get my crossbow!" Dee chirped happily.
"You're not going," Chip stated as he held her back. Turning
to Fangs and Raven he continued, "The two of you make a list of things
that you heard were disappearing'. Maybe we can send Drywall to Philippe's
place for a treasure hunt."
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