The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh
"Chip, we're on vacation," Dale whined, "Why do we always wind up taking a case in the middle of our vacations?"
"You gotta admit, it's a good question," Monterey pointed out.
"What are you talking about?" Dee broke in, "Just last year you had three weeks off without a case... I should know, I was there."
"She's right," Chip concurred, "Not all our vacations get interrupted with cases. If anything, it adds a little spice to things!" Now that his deductive juices were flowing, Chip got down to business, "Whatever caused that mass belching was undoubtedly caused by what people had eaten, so we should interview as many people as possible to see what they ate and if they experienced that unusual activity... We should try to find out if those who experienced it might have some food or drink they had consumed in common."
"We should probably start with ourselves," Gadget offered. One by one everyone recounted what they had eaten and drunk since they had arrived.
"Just from our limited sample it looks like the corn soup is the only thing that might have caused the phenomenon," Chip gathered, "But we should still get a larger sample just to be sure."
"We should probably collect samples of the different foods," Foxglove spoke up, "Before what's here gets disposed of for the day."
"Good thinking, Foxglove!" Chip chirped, "Gadget, I want you to be responsible for collecting the samples. Everyone else, start asking questions."
"If you don't mind, I'd like to make a stop over to the city jail to check on that weasel," Dee interjected.
"I'll go with you," Chip jumped in, "Maybe they'll let me ask him a few questions."
Deep in the walls of the stately former city hall, Chip and Dee arrived at the processing desk of the city's rodent Police Department. Walking up to a nondescript mouse who was looking over some paperwork, Dee introduced herself. "We're here about that weasel that should have been brought in by a couple Nation cops," she explained.
Shuffling through a few papers, the desk sergeant found the relevant document. "Drywall," he read off the offender's sheet, "Charged with causing a disturbance at the Powwow and a couple people came in with him and the Nation cops pressing theft charges."
"That's the one," Dee affirmed.
"You here to add to the charges," the mouse asked, "either for the Nation or yourself?"
"No," Dee answered, "My friend and I would like to talk to him, if that won't be a problem."
Looking up at a human's wristwatch mounted on the wall as a clock, the policemouse thought for a second. "You may have to wait till after the trial for that," he replied, "It'll be starting in a few minutes."
"Isn't that a little sudden?" Chip asked, surprised by the swiftness of local justice.
"It's just on the theft charges," the mouse at the desk pointed out, "The person who filed the charges was insistent on things being wrapped up quickly because he was just passing through on his way to Jamestown... Since he brought a witness with him, Brown decided to move it up on the docket. The weasel probably won't be tried for the ruckus he caused until we get confirmation that the Nation wants to charge him."
"Down in the basement, right?" Dee asked, referring to the site of the impending trial.
"Yep," the officer replied.
Thanking the mouse for his assistance, Dee and Chip made their way down to the basement'. In days past, the lowest level of the old city hall had been the Police Headquarters for the humans, but more recently it had been turned over for their use as cheap apartments and storage. The rodents chose the lesser used storage rooms for their short term detention cells and courtrooms.
After arriving at the appropriate courtroom, Dee and Chip took seats among the other spectators, lawyers, and clients. Still awaiting the arrival of the judge, a middle aged male mouse in a stately suit took a seat beside Dee.
"Good afternoon, Ms Hawkfeather," he greeted Dee pleasantly, "Congratulations on becoming a Clan Mother!"
"Shove it!" Dee snapped at him.
"Dee!" was Chip's startled response.
"Sorry," the lady apologized to both. Turning to their new acquaintance, Dee explained, "I'm just not particularly pleased at being a Clan Mother."
"I'm sorry to hear that," the newcomer replied, "I hear that when Washington took the first oath of office he remarked that he felt like a scoundrel being led to his doom'... Guess it comes with having to accept power."
"Oh, Chip," Dee started in, "This is Daryl Bentwood, the city's leading prosecutor. Daryl, this is my fiancé Chip Maplewood."
"Chip," Daryl said, almost to himself as two rodents shook paws over Dee's lap, "You wouldn't happen to be one of the Rescue Rangers, would you?" Chip replied in the affirmative. "I heard how you all saved Mr Tanner and broke up that gang that had kidnaped him last year, that was some good work!" After Chip thanked him appreciatively, Daryl asked, "You two aren't here on official business, are you?"
"Well, yes and no," Dee answered, "I'd like to talk to the weasel coming up for trial here about becoming part of a local Rescue Ranger team... provided he doesn't get jail time."
"Everybody please rise for the Honorable Judge Herbert Brown." one of the bailiffs called out.
A brown mouse in a judicial robe hobbled into the courtroom, his mouth barely visible beneath his bushy grey mustache. "Everybody sit down," Judge Brown mumbled at the court as he took his seat. "Well, let's get this thing started," he declared gruffly, "This is a trial of Highball Weasel..."
"My client's name is Drywall Weasel, Your Honor," the public defender replied, motioning to the defendant who was locked in a cage.
"I like Highball better, but what're ya' gonna do," Judge Brown returned, "Now, who's the Plaintiff here?"
"I am, Your Honor," the mouse sitting at one of the tables up front stated standing up. "My name is Milton Hemlock, and that thing," he continued, gesturing accusingly at Drywall, "stole a very valuable crystal rose from me at today's festivities."
Chip leaned over to his fiancé and muttered, "You know, he kinda sounds familiar."
"That rose," Mr Hemlock continued, "was a family heirloom, handed down from my Great-grandmother Gertrude... It was more than valuable, it was priceless."
"Says here that nothing, priceless or otherwise, was found on Mr Weasel's person," Judge Brown stated, reading off of the hastily written case file. All the while, the defendant stared intently at whoever was speaking, wringing his paws nervously.
"I know, Your Honor," Mr Hemlock lamented, "That thug probably tossed his ill-gotten booty aside when good law abiding citizens gave chase, and given the absolute catastrophe he caused in his cowardly attempt to flee justice Great-gramma Gertie's beautiful rose has probably been smashed into tiny pieces."
Chip once more leaned over. "He sounds just like a con artist from back home," he whispered, "We kept having run-ins with him and his partner."
"Are there any witnesses to this crime?" the judge queried.
"Yes, Your Honor," Mr Hemlock stated with certainty, "I made sure to enlist the help of one of your local citizens who nobly volunteered to do his civic duty and come forward with his eyewitness testimony." Slightly turning, he motioned his witness to stand. Doing so, Chip got a good look at the plaintiff's face as well as his companion.
"That's him!" Chip whispered sharply, "I mean, that's them!"
"Your Honor," Dee stated loudly as she stood, "May I approach the bench?"
Looking out into the gallery, Judge Brown recognized the young female. "Ms Hawkfeather," he addressed her, "You're not going to cause my bench to explode again, are you?"
"No, sir," Dee responded politely, "And technically speaking your bench didn't explode, it caught fire."
"Whatever," he replied, "All I remember is there were a lot of flames." Getting back to the point he declared, "As long as what you have to say has some bearing on this case, you may approach the bench."
As Dee walked forward, Chip stood and followed. Making eye contact with the plaintiff while walking past, Chip was certain of his identity. It was also clear from the deer in the headlights' expression that Mr Hemlock' recognized him as well. Once at the judge's bench, Dee provided a quick introduction, "Your Honor, this is Chip Maplewood, leader of the Rescue Rangers... and my fiancé."
"Congratulations," Judge Brown replied, "Now why are you here?"
"Your Honor," Chip started, "The other Rescue Rangers and myself have had several encounters with Mr Hemlock and his supposed witness. Their real names are Richard Hertz and Dorf Finton, they're con artists. We hadn't heard anything about them in a while and were thinking they might've straightened out... Apparently they just moved on to less suspecting communities."
The judge digested the information for a moment. Looking over towards the Plaintiff and his witness' he noticed them having a hushed yet highly animated discussion. "Would the Plaintiff and witness please approach the bench," Judge Brown ordered.
Looking back at the judge with a mixture of surprise and fear, Mr Hemlock, a.k.a. Richard Hertz, stammered, "I-I don't think that's, um, really necessary, Your Honor."
"You can approach the bench under your own power or I can have the bailiffs drag you up here," the judge responded, "Either way's fine with me." After a moment of deliberation the two cons hesitantly approached the bench. "This young chipmunk here has leveled the charge that the two of you could be a couple scam artists tryin' to put one over on me," Judge Brown explained, "What do you have to say for yourselves?"
Sputtering in mock offense, Richard replied indignantly, "I can't believe this, Your Honor! I have never seen this chipmunk before in my life nor have any idea why he would be making such ludicrous and hurtful accusations! I, Milton Hemlock, have never engaged in the kind of criminal behavior this person is claiming, and I'm certain this fine citizen here..." he trailed off, turning back to his partner. "What was your name again?" he fraudulently asked.
"Oh, uh, Bob Jones," Dorf answered mechanically.
"And I'm sure Mr Jones here has never engaged in that kind of clearly illegal and immoral behavior either," Richard finished.
"Hi, Dorf!" Chip waved cheerfully to Mr Jones'.
"Hi, Chip!" came the equally cheerful reply. Richard smacked himself in the forehead in shear frustration.
"Bailiff," Judge Brown called, "Place these two under arrest for fraud and... whatever it is when they waste my time."
"Filing false charges?" one of the bailiffs asked as he came forward to escort the two criminals out.
"How can you hold us when this bozo doesn't even know what he's charging us with?" Richard asked the bailiff in desperation.
"Calling the judge a bozo," Dee mused aloud, "Isn't that contempt of court?"
"Sure is," the judge replied, "That's two nights in the slammer right there." With a bang of his gavel Judge Brown made it official. "Now get them out of here," he ordered to the bailiffs.
"Given the current turn of events," the Public Defender piped up, "May I assume that the theft charges are dropped and my client is free to go?"
"Theft charges are dropped," was the judge's answer, "But there's still the matter of the near riot he caused at the Powwow."
"Actually, that's why I was here, Your Honor," Dee stepped in, "Chip and I both witnessed the incident and can attest that there was no personal injury and that the damage was actually fairly minor compared to what my brother occasionally causes at the Hole in the Wall', so I was hoping you might be willing to let him off with some community service."
Judge Brown looked at her for a moment. "Considering the sales pitch you just gave me," he responded, "I imagine you already have something in mind."
"Yes sir," Dee replied, "After his capture there was a very unusual incident that the Rescue Rangers have decided to investigate and since I've been considering establishing a local Ranger team here in town I was thinking we could let Drywall there assist in the investigation. That way he could give back to the community, after a fashion, and could be evaluated for possible inclusion in my team, undoubtedly providing further opportunities to help the community."
As Dee finished speaking, Chip noticed someone or something removing his fedora. Turning quickly, he found Drywall standing behind him investigating the interior of his hat. "Gimme that!" Chip shouted.
Dee and Judge Brown turned to see what had gotten Chip riled up. "How did you get out?" Dee asked the loose weasel.
"Oh, sorry," Drywall apologized. He promptly bounced back towards the cage and managed to quickly inter himself there, seemingly without any difficulty or having to use the door.
"How in blazes did you do that?!" Judge Brown shouted at the weasel.
"Do what?" Drywall replied in honest ignorance.
Thinking for a moment, the judge turned to Dee. "I think I just discovered how I can repay you for that incident with my bench," he stated, "I am formally remanding custody of Drywall Weasel to the Clan Mother Doohickey Hawkfeather for the purpose of performing community service for a duration of time to be determined by Ms Hawkfeather." With a bang of his gavel Judge Brown's latest ruling took effect. "Bailiff, release that furry oddity."
"I guess you can come with us," Dee told the freed weasel.
As the three small mammals made their way out of the old city hall, Chip had to satisfy his curiosity... there was something he just had to know. "Now that you're free," he proceeded to ask Drywall, "Do you suppose you could explain how you got out of that cage back in the courtroom?"
"The bailiff let me out," the weasel answered simply while looking about nervously.
"No-no," Chip corrected, "Before that, when you were messing around with my hat."
"I don't know," Drywall replied, "It's something that happens from time to time."
"You periodically osmose through cages?" Dee asked.
"I just really wanted to know what was under his hat," Drywall pointed out, "and the only way I could find out was to get out of the cage. I don't even know how I do things like that, it just happens."
"Do you remember doing it?" Dee asked, stopping and looking at her new friend'. Drywall shook his head rapidly. "Then how did you get back into the cage?" Dee inquired further. Drywall merely shrugged, periodically wringing his paws as he had in the courtroom. Dee stared at him, thinking, until something bothered her. "Do you ever blink?" she asked.
"No," Drywall answered.
"Might miss something."
"You are obsessed with curiosity," Chip concluded, "Right?"
"Uh-huh," Drywall answered, rapidly nodding his head.
"You have to know what's inside something," Chip further posited, "You must find out what's hidden from your view." Drywall once more nodded rapidly. "Maybe he enters some kind of altered mental state and in his semi-panic he finds some solution to his problem but would be utterly oblivious to it later," he speculated openly to his fiancé, "like forgetting a dream." Turning back to Drywall, he asked a less relevant question. "Are you ever disappointed by what you find, even if there's nothing inside?"
"Never!" the weasel replied with conviction.
"He's not obsessed with curiosity," Dee concluded, "He's obsessed with discovery."
"You're right," Chip stated to his fiancé, "He could be very useful."
"We're not going to get into a fight over who gets to keep him, are we?" Dee asked.
"You heard the judge's ruling," Chip replied, "He's yours."
"Goodie!" squeaked Dee happily. Turning to Drywall before continuing on the way out she explained, "Just stay out of my drawers."
"Oh, I never peek in ladies' clothing," Drywall commented, "The thrill of discovery never justified the beatings I inevitably got."
"Those weren't the drawers I was talking about," Dee replied, "But it's nice to know, anyhow."
Walking out into the narrow strip of ground between the building and the iron and concrete caisson that kept out the river in times of minor flooding, Drywall spotted the Ranger Wing. In moments, he became a blur of motion as he examined every inch, nook and cranny of the aircraft. When finished, he seated himself in the rear and fastened the seatbelt. Shortly after Chip and Dee also boarded the aircraft, Chip felt his hat lift once more.
Looking back, Chip once more saw Drywall examining the interior of his hat. "Stop that!" he shouted, retrieving his fedora.
"Why did you have to look in his hat a second time?" Dee asked.
"He might have put something in there since I checked last," Drywall answered.
Gadget was finishing up tabulations of what food was eaten by whom when Foxglove announced that she heard the Ranger Wing approaching. Everyone gathered about to welcome Dee and Chip's return, and were surprised by the presence of a third passenger.
"Everyone, this is Drywall," Chip pointed out, "Drywall, this is everyone." The weasel waved quickly.
"The theft charges were fraudulent and I got the judge to agree to let him pay off the damage he did here through community service," Dee explained, "Specifically, helping us with the case."
"Heh, for a second there I thought you were going to ask me for a encore of my weasel wrangling routine," Monterey laughed.
"I got the results of our survey completed," Gadget spoke up, "It seems the only food in common among those who experienced that strange belching phenomenon was corn soup."
"I imagine that's not a common side effect of eating the soup," Chip presumed, turning to Dee.
"Our people have been eating the stuff for centuries," Dee pointed out, "and this is the first time something like this has ever come up."
"Maybe there was some rat poison left over after the corn was rinsed off," Dale supposed.
"Any residual lye would more likely have resulted in death," Gadget responded, "not belching."
"Yeah, but everyone sure croaked!" Dale joked.
"We should bring some of the soup back to the mill," Dee suggested, "I've got equipment there that can be used to analyze it's components."
"Did you get some soup with the other samples?" Chip inquired of Gadget.
"Sure did," the lady replied, "The doggie bags are all loaded onto Ranger Plane."
"Excellent!" Chip declared, "The way things are going we could have this case wrapped up before nightfall!"
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