The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh

Chapter Fifteen

"I'm glad you finally came to your senses, Chip," Dee stated as she, her fiancé and Drywall flew northward from the abandoned rail yard in the Ranger Wing. The lady had convinced her betrothed that she could be trusted not to go after Philippe.

"Me?" Chip responded almost indignantly, "I wasn't the one who was going to go off and kill someone over an unflattering portrait."

"I mean your finally accepting I wasn't actually going to kill that frog," Dee pointed out.

"I know, it's just that I didn't really expect that extreme a reaction from you over something that trivial," Chip explained.

"You should talk," Dee jabbed playfully, "Monty's told me about some of the things you and Dale have come to blows over."

"But you've always told me how you try to keep control over your temper," the chipmunk countered, "That way, no one could use you."

"Yeah," the mouse agreed, "It's just that there's something about Philippe that really sets me off."

"Put down here," Chip ordered. Dee landed the craft where her love had instructed. Being a substantial distance from Philippe's studio so as to avoid detection by his loyal following, Chip had to explain to Drywall how to make it the rest of the way. The chipmunk simultaneously instilled in the weasel that there was nothing of interest to be found on the way and that there were great mysteries to be discovered at the destination... the hope being that Drywall would head straight for his destination without distraction. "And remember, once you get there" Chip finished, stressing his final words, "Keep your eyes peeled!"

Drywall developed a very worried expression and slowly turned away. Dee and Chip looked to each other as they both came to the same horrible realization. "WAIT!" Dee shouted to the weasel. She leaned out far from the Ranger Wing to grab hold of his arm before he could get any farther.

"What I meant when I said ‘keep your eyes peeled' was," Chip began to correct himself, "When you get there, try not to overlook anything. Even otherwise mundane items could have great significance."

"Whew!" Drywall exhaled in relief, then departed for his mission.

"You had the same flashback of that ‘butter him up' incident, didn't you?" Chip asked his love. Dee nodded. "We should probably warn Romulus not to say ‘Stick a fork in me, I'm done' around Drywall," Chip reasoned.

"But he can still say it around plaster board, right?" Dee inquired. As Chip gave her a confused look, she added with a growing smile, "And wall paper? Romulus loves to say ‘Stick a fork in me, I'm done' around wall paper... It'd break his heart if he couldn't."

"Maybe we should come up with a new name for Drywall," Chip reasoned. As the Ranger Wing took to the sky, he turned to his fiancé and prodded playfully, "You're lucky you're not Dale, otherwise I would've been tempted to bonk you for that construction material joke."

Drywall bounded eagerly through the undergrowth on his quest. He paused momentarily upon reaching the small clearing before the entrance to Philippe's studio. The darkness within the burrow beckoned him forward, enticing the weasel with it's untold secrets. So many potential mysteries, so many potential answers, so much... potential! He could hold back no longer. Quickly licking his lips, Drywall bolted across the clearing and vanished into the earth.

There was little within the tunnel itself for the inquisitive weasel to take note of (though what little there was did not go unobserved). Entering the candle lit studio, Drywall paused again. It was as if he'd uncovered the legendary Cave of Wonders itself! His pupils dilated with ecstacy. As Drywall's lust to satisfy his curiosity flew into overdrive, it was as if the laws of physics had been undone... he was everywhere! Looking into, under and around everything... weaving between statues... nothing escaped his observation. Even the fleas hidden in Philippe's tousled and filthy bedding were paid a visit.

Once all possible lanes of exploration had been exhausted, Drywall turned his attention to the two side tunnels leading off from the studio. One was a simple tunnel leading to the outside, containing very little to hold the weasel's attention. The other proved far more interesting. The second tunnel led a chamber full of vats of liquid, sacks of various substances, scales with weights and measures, and frogs, lots of frogs.

"An intruder!" shouted one of the amphibians, "‘E must be stopped!"

"AAHHH!" shouted Drywall as the mass of green advanced on him. Racing back down the tunnel to Philippe's studio he managed to stay far ahead of the amphibious mob. However, a second, smaller group of frogs were entering the studio from one of the other tunnels and, upon seeing the panicked weasel, moved to block the escape routes. With escape cut off, Drywall resorted to the only tactic he could think of: evade.

Frogs lunged at the weasel form all sides only to have the wiry fur ball quickly bolt between two of them. Dodging, ducking, weaving, bouncing and racing about like mad, Drywall stayed out of the grasp of his pursuers. One by one, frogs began dropping from exhaustion. In time, only a few remained standing, and when they lost track of the manic mammal among Philippe's possessions, they sat down to catch their breath. It wasn't long before they were asleep. A crumpled up ball of paper sprouted a furry paw, then another, then two more, then scampered from the frog strewn studio, off towards Dee's workshop.

Dale was contentedly sprawled out on the floor of the workshop, perusing a comic book filled with alien creatures, when he noticed a large shadow overtake his reading material. Looking up from his entertaining diversion, he found himself face to ‘face' with a bristling white ball that happened to be peering at him intently with a pair of unblinking eyes. "AHH! An ALIEN!!" Dale hollered. Everyone's attention was riveted upon the startled chipmunk and his visitor.

"Alien? Where?" Drywall asked excitedly, his head popping up out of the ball of paper. The weasel bounded out of the paper ball and was soon racing about the workshop attempting to locate the extraterrestrial.

"Dale, you dimwit," Chip scolded, "It was just Drywall... in a disguise, I guess."

"Drywall," Dee called out to the streaking blur, "There's no alien."

"Oh poo," the weasel noted disappointedly, coming to a sudden halt in the middle of the room.

Chip pulled Drywall aside and promptly proceeded to debrief him concerning his recent mission. "Did you find the stuff that Fangs and Raven told you about?"

"Most of ‘em," Drywall answered simply.

"Any idea what they were being used for?" Chip inquired. Drywall just shook his head. "Did you find a tunnel leading off to the side?" the chipmunk asked.

The weasel nodded, "Two," he clarified.

"Where did they lead?" Chip inquired further, hoping to finally satisfy his own curiosity about what he'd failed to investigate earlier.

"One just led outside," Drywall proceeded to answer, "the other led to a room."

Chip waited for Drywall to continue, only to have the weasel stare at him intently. "What was in the room," the chipmunk pressed. Once the weasel finished relating what he'd spotted before the frogs spotted him, Chip asked, "Do you have any idea what was in those vats or sacks?" Drywall shook his head. "Did the frogs see you?" Drywall nodded. "What did you do?"

"I ran," Drywall answered.

"I assume you wound up hiding in that paper ball and then snuck back here, right?" Chip inquired. Drywall nodded. Having finished with the weasel, Chip approached the ball of paper, which was nearly as large as himself. It occurred to him that there might be something of potential value scrawled on such a piece of discarded paper. "Hey, Monty," he called out, "Help me get this straightened out."

"Sure thing, Chip, me lad," the Aussie replied, sauntering over to assist. Once the two had opened the ball and had the sheet flattened out on the floor, they looked it over.

"Looks like some kind of mechanical schematics," Chip remarked as he proceeded to lift up one side of the sheet.

"Yer right, there," Monty commented as he lifted the other side, helping to hold it upright.

Gadget, having heard the words ‘mechanical schematics', wandered away from her project to see what was up. As she approached her companions from the opposite side of the sheet, she spotted various sketches on the reverse that had gone unnoticed by the two as they unraveled it. Gadget released a startled shriek and raced over to the paper. Grabbing the top edge, she pulled it down, out of the grip of Chip and Monty, and pushed it flat against the floor.

"Gadget!" Chip exclaimed.

"What's the matter, luv?" Monty inquired.

"What is it now?" Dee asked, wandering away from her own project. Gadget motioned her sister over, discreetly lifted up the sheet and gestured to what she'd spotted. "That frog drew these, didn't he?" Dee practically growled.

"Drew what?" Chip asked.

Raven, who had been drawn away from playing kissy-face with Fangs by all the noise, also spotted what had caused the commotion. "Whoa! Who drew all the nudy pics of Aunt Gadget?"

Drywall, who had begun to leaf through Dale's comic book, raced over to get a gander. "Ooh!" the weasel commented.

Being a bit more at the center of attention than she'd intended, Gadget was not pleased by Drywall's sudden intrusion. "Knock it off!" she shouted as she bonked him on the head.

"Ow!" Drywall spouted, backing away, covering his head.

"Golly!" Gadget responded, "I'm sorry, Drywall. It was a gut reaction!"

"Golly," Dee commented, "That excuse sounds familiar."

Taking the opportunity to change the subject, Chip walked over to Drywall. "Before I forget... While you were gone, we decided to come up with a more, er, less, um... a new name for you," he began to explain. Drywall stopped rubbing his sore noggin for a moment. "We figured it'd be best if we called you by a name that wasn't going to be mistaken for a piece of construction material, you know, if one of us states ‘I need Drywall' or ‘Bring me Drywall'."

"That's understandable," Drywall agreed.

"We considered names like ‘Creepy Weasel', ‘General Nuisance'..." Chip listed.

"My favorite was ‘Wonder Weasel'!" exclaimed Dale.

"Yeah, but the thought of you wearing a Wonder Woman get-up made it a little too ridiculous," Monty pointed out.

"So we eventually settled on calling you ‘Snoop'," Chip finished, "It made sense given your natural tendencies."

"Snoop," Drywall repeated.

"Think you can live with that?" Chip asked.

"Sure," answered ‘Snoop' with a shrug.

While the males had been busy counseling ‘Snoop' about his new moniker, Dee and Gadget had taken to examining the mechanical designs on the sheet. Laying it flat on the floor so as to draw no further attention to the sketches on the reverse, they poured over the details. All of the numbers made sense, their only problem was the text. "Figures," Dee grumbled, "It's all in french."

"It looks like it's supposed to be some kind of pump," Gadget declared, "These appear to be valves, flow rates... in metric I think, but that would only make sense considering Philippe is from France, but that's assuming it was Philippe who drew up these plans, which I guess makes sense since it was found in his studio, but then again one doesn't always consider artists to be engineers, but there are exceptions like Leonardo da Vinci..."

"I'd rather we not start equating this greasy, thieving lech to da Vinci," Dee argued.

"Fair enough," Gadget agreed. "Monty," she called, "How well can you read french?"

"I think I do pretty well," Monty replied modestly, walking over to the ladies, "I picked up quite a bit during my early days back-packing across Europe.... plus some German, Italian..."

"Could you translate some of this then?" Dee asked, motioning to the schematics.

"Well I'll certainly give it a try," Monty consented, leaning in to examine the text. After a few minutes, most of which were devoted to Monty's tales detailing just how he came to learn certain words and phrases, the french text of the document was translated. One aspect of the translation became an issue of particular importance. "Chipper, I think you should come take a look at this," Monty called over.

"What is it, Monty?" Chip asked as he approached.

"Now I'm not one-hundred percent certain on the translation of this one phrase," the Aussie prefaced, pointing towards a particular point on the schematics, "But it seems t'me Philippe is talkin' about some kind of ‘belch sauce'."

"Belch sauce?" Chip repeated.

"That substance we found in the tainted soup would, in it's original form, have the consistency of runny cheese sauce," Gadget pointed out.

"Making it a ‘belch sauce'," Dee finished.

"So this would seem to indicate that Philippe is the one behind that strange belching incident," Chip concluded.

"That's certainly what it looks like," Gadget confirmed.

"So what does it have to do with this pump?" Chip inquired, "or whatever it is."

"Now that we have the labels and comments translated we should be able to figure that out," Dee explained.

"It's not for creating it," Gadget inferred, "but for transporting it from one point to another."

Dee, following the line of flow with her finger, stated, "It ends in a reservoir of some sort."

"A larger holding tank?" Chip offered.

"No," Gadget answered, "It's a reservoir of water."

"Isn't the Allegany Reservoir near here?" asked Chip.

"Technically, the Reservoir ends here in town, everything downstream from here to the Kinzua Dam is the Allegany Reservoir... or what some of the elders still call Lake Perfidy," Dee explained, "But that couldn't be the reservoir mentioned here." Pointing to part of the schematic, she continued, "See here, there's a concrete and steel rebarb wall that the pump has to pass through before it terminates... there's nothing like that along the Reservoir, at least not fitting this description."

"Can either of you think of any other kind of reservoirs that would have this kind of wall?" Chip asked the two mechanically inclined mice.

"Achully," Gadget replied after some thought, "this looks similar to one of the reservoirs just above the city back home, where we get our drinking water."

"You don't mean Philippe intends to dump this into someone's drinking water?" Monterey inquired in disbelief.

"That's what it looks like," Gadget confirmed, "If only we knew which reservoir this was."

Dee suddenly got a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Chip, where did you find Philippe's studio?" she asked.

"It was up past the end of Newton Street," he answered.

"Oh o'dah," Dee groaned in obvious distress.

"What?" Chip asked, "What's wrong?"

"The city's reservoir is at the end of Newton Street," Dee pointed out, "This city's reservoir, where we get our drinking water!"

"Wouldn't filters prevent this from getting through into the tap water?" Chip questioned, with increasing concern.

"Doubtful," Gadget replied, "The current standards for municipal water treatment wouldn't catch something like this, not once it's mixed into the water supply."

Chip hesitated a moment before asking, "Dee... how many people rely on that reservoir for their tap water?"

Dee did some quick figuring in her head, "Roughly thirteen thousand five hundred humans, rodents, pets and other small mammals."

"Crikey!" Monty commented at the thought.

"Why would Philippe want to poison so many people?!" Gadget inquired.

"He probably doesn't even know the stuff is poisonous, that is if he was using the Powwow as a trial run," Chip clarified, "With the exception of Dee, who knew the chef, we all assumed the soup was made with tap water... Philippe would probably think the same thing!"

"So he'd put this in the water supply without realizing it would kill thousands!" Gadget realized.

"Well, he threw away the plans for this pump," Monty interjected hopefully, "Maybe he wrote it all off as being too much trouble."

"Or he rejected it in favor of a better design," Dee countered.

"Given the potential consequences we should assume he plans to put this stuff in the water supply one way or another," Chip stated, "But we still don't know why?"

"That bloke strikes me as one of them ‘modern' artist types," Monty commented, "Them's the types that would wrap an entire building in plastic, or seal their own droppings in tin cans." His last comment brought some incredulous looks from the others. "Well, Dale and I read about that in a Dave Barry article," he confessed.

"And making an entire city belch is just stupid enough for someone like that to consider it art," Chip agreed.

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