The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh
As everyone proceeded to the two Ranger aircraft, something occurred to Gadget concerning the tainted soup. "You know, I could probably do the analysis of the soup more efficiently if I knew what all is supposed to be in it," she concluded, "Do you know what goes into the corn soup, Dee?"
"I think it's just water, hulled corn, beans and salt pork," Dee responded, "But I can't rule out individual cooks adding a little something extra." Stopping, she motioned back towards the picnic area, "You all head on back, I'll check with the cook just to be certain about what he put in this batch."
"I think I'll stay behind for awhile myself," Chip added, "Talk to some of the people involved with preparing and serving the soup, see if they saw anything or anyone unusual."
"I guess we'll be taking the Ranger Plane back then," Gadget replied, "The two of you can take the Ranger Wing back." Doing the math in her head, she added, "It'll be a tight fit though."
"I can fly back on my own," Fangs pointed out, "So can Foxglove."
"That leaves Drywall," Gadget concluded.
"He's staying with me," declared Dee, "I don't want him snooping around my mill without my supervision." Parting ways with their comrades, Dee and Chip made their way to where the soup was prepared with the curious weasel in tow. "While I'm at it I can take inventory of the equipment that needs repair after that lye induced explosion."
"The soup's cooked on site for the Powwow?" Chip inquired.
"Only when lots of it are needed," Dee answered, "Like the Powwow or other public gatherings... Mom actually built some of the equipment used for it."
Dee led Chip past the picnic area and towards the camouflaged housing for the soup preparation. Seeing the occasional mouse or rat emerge or return from the site wearing plastic bags tailored to be use as rodent sized hazardous material suits, Chip realized they were still cleaning the area of the lye tainted water.
Looking around, Dee pointed out for her fiancé, "The cook's staff is over by that sapling, they would've noticed anyone out of the place during the cooking, and they can point out who might have helped haul pots to the picnic site. I'll be around here... y'know, getting the ingredients, checking the equipment."
After several minutes speaking to numerous volunteers, none of whom were able to provide useful information, Chip became aware of a growing number of rodents talking about that guy with the hat'. Their tone of voice was less than reassuring. Keeping an ear turned toward the crowd, he noticed that some of them seemed to think he had been involved in the bizarre belching incident. Alarmed by some of the more inflammatory accusations, Chip turned to see who it was that was saying such things. As he faced his accusers, he was met by sneers of contempt by a group of mice who looked as if they would otherwise be spending their time shaking someone down. It hardly surprised him to notice his future aunt-in-law hovering in the background, a contented smirk on her face.
Chip was beginning to wonder how much longer it would be before the mob turned ugly... or uglier than it already was, at any rate. His concern was shelved momentarily when a somewhat familiar voice called out, "Mr Maplewood! Chip!" Turning to face someone who would hopefully be a pleasant distraction, he spotted Richard Tanner, dressed in a finely tailored suit, striding towards him. Grabbing his paw and shaking it vigorously, Mr Tanner continued, "I heard you and the other Rescue Rangers were back in town! You here to rescue anyone or are you all here on vacation?"
"That's a Rescue Ranger?" one of the hecklers asked a comrade. Slowly, some of the foul tempered rodents shied away, not wanting to be seen hurling epithets at a hero who had connections in the city. Then, as Doohickey Hawkfeather bounded up to him and gave him a peck on the cheek, the rest began to melt away. They didn't want to be seen harassing a hero who happened to be the boyfriend of the tribe's newest Clan Mother. As Carol Halfshell watched her vengeful mob slink off into the undergrowth she realized turning that day's unusual occurrence to her advantage would not be as easy as she had estimated. She skulked off, growling to herself.
"I was just talking to Chip," Mr Tanner stated to Dee after she had arrived, "I was hoping I could treat you and your friends to dinner up at the Red Garter this evening."
"What do you think?" Chip asked his fiancé, "I was considering taking a rain check and wait til after we've wrapped up the case."
"I don't see how that'd be necessary," Dee concluded, "We'd have to break for dinner, case or no case, and besides, this way it'd be free." After a moment of thought, she added, "Otherwise, dinner comes out of my pantry... Yes, we're definitely eating out tonight."
"So we eat out or we don't eat at all?" inquired the chipmunk.
"Right," the mouse stated with a smile.
"Then how can we refuse?" Chip accepted, turning to Mr Tanner.
"Great!" the businessmouse replied, "Would seven be ok?"
"Sure," Dee agreed, "Can we bring guests?"
"Who do you have in mind?"
"My daughter, her boyfriend, Dale's girlfriend'..." Dee began listing off, "and that weasel whose head is in- Drywall, GET OUT OF THERE!" A startled scream and a crash accompanied the weasel's latest curiosity inspired indiscretion. Racing from the scene, Drywall managed to hide himself completely behind Doohickey.
"I'll probably regret this," Mr Tanner replied, "but ok."
Within a second of the Ranger Wing touching down in Dee's hanger Drywall was off. In a blur of motion the weasel sped from one side to another in his quest to explore the new locale. As Dee and Chip walked over towards the open living area they occasionally had to dodge the speeding carnivore. "Hope nobody has any other plans," Chip opened as he approached the others sitting upon the couch and couple chairs, "Mr Tanner, the mouse we rescued here last year, invited us to dinner tonight."
"Golly, that certainly was nice of him," Gadget commented, "Will we still have time to do the analysis of the soup before then?"
"I don't see why not..." Dee would have said more except Drywall raced by, nearly knocking her over, and dove behind the couch. "You done checking the place out?" she asked, irritated.
"Dogs," Drywall spouted, "big dogs!" His paw poked up over the edge of the couch and pointed towards the stairway leading to the lower levels of the mill and added "Down there!"
"Wolves," Dee corrected.
"Whatever, they're big," Drywall responded, still in hiding, "could eat me."
"They're wolves and they're my friends," Dee pointed out, lifting the terrified weasel from his hiding place. "C'mon, I'll introduce you," she added, pulling Drywall along.
Down in the wolves' den, Romulus was busy watching reruns while other pack members either slept or played with the pups outside. The commanding canine was too wrapped up in his tv to acknowledge Dee's first attempt to call him over. Her second attempt, garnering greater success, caused Romulus to look over towards the entrance. "Yeah?"
"AAHHHH!!" Drywall shrieked as the larger carnivore spotted him.
"Stop that!" Dee snapped, smacking the weasel upside the head, "He's not going to eat you!" As the wolf lumbered over, the mouse introduced the two, "Romulus, this is Drywall. Drywall, Romulus."
"Hi," Romulus welcomed the weasel. Drywall quickly waved at the wolf. The two stared at each other for a moment. Romulus twitched an ear, then tilted his head. Drywall continued staring at him intently. Hesitantly, the wolf leaned over towards Dee. "That boy ain't right," Romulus drawled.
"No kidding," Dee responded.
"I'm not sure I trust him," the wolf pointed out.
"He's harmless," the mouse reassured him, "The two of you get acquainted, I'll be upstairs."
As Dee left, Romulus motioned towards the rest of the den, "Um, how bout I show you around?"
"Okie-dokie," Drywall replied, not taking his eyes off the wolf.
When Dee emerged from the lower bowels of her mill, Gadget walked over. "Is it ok if we start the analysis of the soup now?" she asked, "I looked around for the equipment you said you had- of course I wouldn't start using it without your approval- but couldn't find it. I know you have other rooms around here that are closed off and would have checked them but I know how territorial you are..."
"Sure," Dee responded and began to lead her sister to the equipment... until she remembered something important. Smacking her head she explained, "I moved the stuff to my workshop in the city... I thought it would get more use there!" There was an approaching rumble behind the two ladies. When it suddenly stopped, they turned and saw Drywall standing right behind them. "Yes?" Dee asked.
"I heard talking and thought something interesting might be happening," Drywall explained.
"No," Dee replied.
"Oh." In short order, Dale's constant channel surfing caught the weasel's attention and he bounded over to watch.
The Ranger Wing cut a quick path through the afternoon sky as Gadget and Dee, with Chip tagging along, returned to the city to examine the contents of the tainted soup. Over in a far corner of Dee's workshop was a small mound of parts that would otherwise have been dismissed as just an orderly pile of junk. "Well, here's my homemade spectrometer," the inventor proclaimed, motioning to the machine, "All we need is to prepare a sample and feed it into the device."
"Are you sure it's gonna work?" Chip asked.
"Both tests I ran came out fine," Dee explained as she began preparing a sample of the soup, "But there's always the outside chance of a catastrophic failure."
"Catastrophic failure?" the chipmunk repeated warily.
"Did I say catastrophic?" Dee replied in a concerned tone. "I meant an outside chance of a minor booboo," she added with an innocent smile.
"Does that mean we should be behind protective shielding when you fire that thing up?" Chip asked.
Dee looked up, thoughtfully. "Hmm, something to work on in the future," she muttered.
"I guess it's a good thing we didn't bring Monty with us," Chip mentioned to Gadget... or he tried to, not realizing until afterwards that she'd wondered over to the machine to inspect it.
"He'd make a good blast shield," Dee muttered as she worked.
"WHAT?!" Chip blurted out in surprise.
"What?" Dee asked, looking up.
"Did you say what I thought you said?" Chip clarified.
"I don't know," his fiancé replied, "What'd I say?"
"That Monty would make a good blast shield!" Chip proclaimed.
"Oh, sorry," Dee remarked, "I have a tendency to ramble when I'm working... doesn't mean anything. You should talk to Bob about some of the things he's heard me say, apparently some of them are real pips." Lifting up the prepared sample, she proclaimed, "We're ready to go!" After placing the sample into a cavity in the front of the spectrograph, Dee closed it up and set the dials and levers to the proper settings. Picking up a triggering plunger attached a long length of cord, she motioned to the others, "Just to be safe we should probably be in the next room when I set this thing off."
All three rodents disappeared into a hole in the wall. When all was set, Dee depressed the plunger. A whirring sound commenced, rising in pitch... only to be cut short by a loud pop. The pop was soon followed by a short buzz. Chip could tell by the way Dee's shoulders drooped that those weren't desired sound effects. The fact that this was followed by her stomping her feet and swearing reassured him of the accuracy of his deduction. Before Chip could console his love she departed to inspect her malfunctioning device. Both he and Gadget soon followed her.
"That pop had to be a blown fuse," Dee reasoned as she flung open a panel on the side of the dormant creation revealing an array of brightly colored automotive fuses. Counting them out, she grabbed one of the red 10 Amp fuses and began tugging on it. The stubborn part refused to budge. Grabbing it with both paws Dee pulled harder, placing one foot against the plastic tray into which it was set and pushing... then up went her other foot... then out came the fuse... then mouse and fuse went tumbling across the floor. "Yep," she stated while laying on her back examining the fuse. Tossing aside the spent article, she stood and walked back, "Now to find out what that buzzing was."
Throwing open a second panel, Dee examined the interior while standing back away from her creation. Having spotted something of potential importance she leaned in suddenly, reaching a paw forward. A static discharge arced over the gap between the disabled spectrograph and the lady's paw with a loud snap'. With a, "Yipe!" that was more from being startled than any sensation of pain, Dee jerked back her paw... just before a sheet of flame enveloped her jumpsuit.
Chip reflexively leapt at his fiancé and flung her to the floor and began patting out the flames, the fact that the flames had already dissipated by the time he made contact with her had yet to register. "No, Chip..." Gadget tried to intervene, having realized fairly quickly what had occurred and knowing that her sister was in no real danger... except, maybe, from an over protective lover.
Dee promptly misinterpreted Chip's actions and grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and flipped him onto his back. "You impetuous animal, you!" she squealed as she climbed atop the startled chipmunk. Leaning in nose to nose, she asked, "But don't you think we should wait till tonight?" then adding, in a voice laden with desire, "When we can be alone?"
"What?" chirped Chip.
"Uh, Dee," Gadget broke in, "Chip thought you were on fire."
Dee rolled the thought around in her head for a moment, then let out a little giggle. "Aww, you were trying to save my life," she cooed to her fiancé, "you handsome, heroic hunk of munk, you!" Dee then proceeded to thank her future husband by means of a long lingering kiss. Gadget hoped that the kiss would be the extent of it, she was feeling awkward enough as it was. Dee, having adequately expressed her gratitude, rose from the floor. Helping Chip up, she explained what had precipitated the whole experience, "Whenever I fuel up the Banshee my jumpsuit will absorb some of the fumes... If I come into contact with a spark before I've washed the residue out it gets ignited, fortunately I absorb so little fuel that it all burns off in the initial flash. The flames never last long enough to actually do any physical damage."
"Psychological damage on the other hand..." Chip began to comment.
"I know, I'm sorry," Dee responded, "I really shoulda' warned ya'."
As the other two were rising from the floor, Gadget had wandered over to the equipment to look matters over. Sticking her head into the open hatch her sister had been at, she spotted something important. "I think I found the source of that buzzing," she commented, "It looks like the circuits are fried... or at least I think that's what they were, though it's possible they were something else, but then again it's entirely possible that's what it's supposed to look like in there..."
As Gadget speculated, Dee investigated. "Yeah, those were circuits," she confirmed, "once. It'll take some doing to replace them."
"How long?" Chip inquired.
"Depends," Dee sighed, "If I go for replacing them with real' circuits I can keep things compact and more reliable but will need a week to track down the right parts. Or, I could cobble together makeshift circuits out of readily available parts, it wold take a couple days but the reliability will drop significantly while the potential for a catastrophic failure rises inversely."
"There's that word again," Chip smirked.
"What? Potential? Inversely?" Dee asked playfully.
"Catastrophic," Chip intoned with a smile, "Last seen in the presence of a word identified as failure'."
"Hmm," Dee thought, drawing closer to Chip, "I might have heard of him, but I hear a lot of words."
"Well, maybe this will help refresh your memory," Chip drawled as he took the raven haired mouse in his arms, leaning in to bribe her with a kiss.
Gadget loudly cleared her throat, interrupting the interrogation'. "Um, guys, what are we doing with the soup sample?"
"Actually, we could have Verne take a look at it," Dee suggested, "If he doesn't have any clue what's in it I can get to work repairing the spectrometer."
"Who's Verne?" Chip asked.
"He's a Japanese Beetle," Dee clarified, "Verne Webber Beetle', the guy's practically a walking chemistry set."
Chip proceeded to store the name in his mental notebook. That's when something dawned on him, "His name is V.W. Beetle'? Isn't that a car?"
"Yeah, it's a car and the guy's nickname," Dee nodded, "But since no one can pronounce his real name... well, no one that isn't an insect... people just referred to him as Beetle', somewhere along the line someone added the VW' part as a joke, then it kind of evolved into an actual name."
"Know where we can find him this time of day?" Chip inquired further.
"Unless he's next door, maybe we should hold off until tomorrow," Gadget suggested, "We do have a dinner date, remember, and it's getting late."
Chip checked the watch that was hung on the wall nearby. "Ok, we'll head back to the mill and meet with Verne tomorrow." While en route back to Dee's residence, Chip gave some thought to the assemblage of persons they were bringing along for dinner. Thinking of one in particular brought up a concerned thought, "Do you think it was ok to have left Drywall alone at the mill?"
"He's not exactly alone," Dee replied, "I'm sure Dale and Monty can keep him preoccupied. Besides, how much trouble can they all cause out in the middle of the woods?"
"Willyoucutthatoutalready?!" Dale yelled as he shoed Drywall away form the television controls, "AndhwosaidyoucouldgochangingcahnnelswhileIwasgettingasnack?"
Drywall stared at Dale for a moment, trying to decipher what had been said, though finally settling on, "What?"
"I think he means he's never seen anyone change channels that quickly before," Monty joined in, "I think."
"Yeah," Dale confirmed, "Channel surfing is one of the finest things a guy can do, if he's good at it... It's like you've never been around a TV before."
"Well, I haven't," Drywall admitted.
"There is much for you to learn, young grasshopper," Dale proclaimed sagely as he led Drywall over to the couch.
"But," the carnivore responded, "I'm a weasel."
Dale's attempt to teach Drywall the zen of channel surfing was put on hold as the Ranger Wing returned with it's three passengers. As Chip and the two ladies disembarked, Foxglove walked up. "What did you find out?" she inquired concerning the group's outing.
"Not much," Chip replied dejectedly.
"Except that my spectrometer needs an overhaul," Dee added, sounding every bit as disappointed as her future mate.
"Then where do we go now?" the chiropterid asked.
"I know someone in town who's an expert in all things chemical," Dee replied, "We'll get in touch with him tomorrow."
"But for this evening we have to get ready for dinner," Chip pointed out.
Dale couldn't help but contemplate an issue that often led to contention between Chip and himself. "We don't have to get dressed up, do we?" he asked.
"Nah," Dee replied, to Dale's relief, "The Red Garter's not that exclusive... well, not for nonhuman patrons at least. Besides, considering who's treating us I don't think the management would put up too much flack about his guests being a little... colorful?" After looking around for a moment, she asked, "Anybody seen Raven and Fangs?"
Monterey gave an amused grunt before answering, "The two lovebirds are up on the roof... enjoying the view."
Foxglove followed up, "When they said that's where they were going I almost suggested to Dale that we go up for the view too," and sounded a little sheepish when she added, "but it looked like they wanted to be alone."
Dee gave a little snicker before she walked off towards the balcony. Chip quickly caught up with her. "You're not going to go bursting in on them, are you?" he asked, concerned how such an intrusion might affect the fledgling mother-daughter relationship.
"It's not like I'm going to find them doing anything I wasn't doing at their age," Dee responded with a smirk.
"That's not what I meant and you know it," Chip countered.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to go bursting in on them," she confided before heading out. All the way along the walk to the rooftop Dee pondered how best to handle informing the two that it was time to prepare for a night out. Stopping at the door that opened onto the moss covered patio she listened carefully, out of a certain measure of curiosity. Then it occurred to her, noticing the absolute silence, that Fangs could easily have heard her coming. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything!" she declared after knocking on the door. Getting no response, she hesitantly opened the door and peered in. There was no one to be seen. It wasn't until she walked out onto the moss laden floor that Dee spotted something a little off to the side and airborne. She soon realized it was Fangs carrying Raven by her arms with his feet. I'll be, they are doing something I wasn't doing at their age, she thought, No, actually there was that time I got into a fight with a crow and he took me up seventy-some feet and threatened to drop me.
"Um, hi!" Raven stated nervously once Fangs had set her down and fluttered to a landing beside her. "I've never really been anywhere where there weren't buildings everywhere..." she began to explain, not quite sure how her mother would react to finding her only daughter allowing herself to be dangled above the treetops without anything resembling a safety device.
"And you wanted to get a good view of things," Dee presumed with a reassuring smile.
"Well, yeah," Raven answered, "It's just such a change to get used to... being so isolated and all. And you don't have to worry about Fangs carrying me, he's more than strong enough and I know he'd never drop me."
"That's ok," the mother responded in a polite tone that took her daughter completely off guard, "I did worse when I was younger... Now you're gonna hafta get ready, we're heading out to dinner soon."
As the sun drew closer to the hilltops in the west, two rodent piloted aircraft crested South Mountain. Doohickey, piloting the Ranger Wing, led the small formation towards the small cluster of buildings that rested halfway up the northwest slope of the hill adjoining South Mountain. The two craft landed behind the largest of the buildings out front of which stood, slightly down the slope in large white block letters not unlike the famous Hollywood' sign, the name RED GARTER. The saloon of the former frontier themed amusement park had in recent years been renovated and turned into a restaurant and bar featuring an incredible view of the city nestled below in the river valley. Disembarking from their transport, the diminutive patrons of the rodent run section of the establishment met up with their host and adjourned within. Dinner progressed without incident and much of the talk centered around the Rangers' most recent adventure, that being the recovery of the Delronne Diamond and the resulting reunion of Doohickey with her daughter.
"If you're ever on a case around here and need any kind of assistance, just let me know," Mr Tanner mentioned, "I've got all kinds of connections around the city that might be useful."
"Thanks for the offer," Chip responded, "We'll keep that in mind, we may not need it on our current case but it's good to know we have extra support if we need it."
"Current case?" the host inquired.
"We're investigating that belching incident that occurred at the Powwow today," Gadget responded.
"Ah. That was strange," Mr Tanner commented.
"Know what else is strange?" Raven piped up. Everyone at the table turned to face the young mouse. "All day I have noticed older guys giving me this strange look. Must've been seven of them so far."
"Who?" Doohickey asked protectively, "Anybody here at the restaurant?"
"Yeah," Raven replied, "One of em just sat down over there." Both her mother and Chip peered over towards where Raven motioned as the rest joined in out of sheer curiosity. As luck would have it, the older mouse in question just happened to glance back towards their table giving everyone a good look at his face. Upon making eye contact with Doohickey he quickly turned away, as if there were something on the table before him that demanded his immediate and undivided attention.
As everyone, except Drywall, turned back towards their own table, Doohickey let out a long sigh. "I should've known this was going to happen," she stated, more to herself than to the others. Though not everyone had heard what she said, her general bearing made it somewhat clear that she knew what was going on. "He, and probably those other guys, are all people I used to be... popular with when I was younger," she explained to Raven, "They're probably looking at you strange because they're trying to see if you have any of their features."
Though everyone knew what Doohickey had meant (except, of course, Drywall, who was still trying to figure out what the mouse thought was so fascinating at his own table), Raven couldn't help but clarify the issue further, "You mean they're wondering if I'm their daughter."
"Yeah," Dee nodded solemnly.
Before anything further could be discussed on the matter, they were all alarmed by a startled shout emanating from the older mouse's table. This was soon followed by a loud screaming, and as they turned to see the cause of the commotion they witnessed Drywall bounding back towards them in a panic. The screaming weasel then dove under the table to hide.
"Um," Mr Tanner began, "Where did you get him?"
"We got him in a box of Puffy-Wuffies," Dale replied lightheartedly, "The box said A surprise in every box!' and boy was he a surprise!"
"Achully," Gadget answered seriously, "He's supposed to be helping us investigate the cause of that incident at the Powwow as a form of community service."
We can't keep having things like that happen, Chip thought to himself. After a moment of thought, he motioned a waiter over. Chip quickly whispered something to the waiter, who gave an odd look to the chipmunk, rolled his eyes and began to leave. Grabbing the waiter by the arm and pulling him back, he whispered to him again. The waiter looked confused, nodded and walked off. Before too long the same waiter returned and handed Chip a small paper bag... on the side was scrawled the words Bag-O-Mystery'. "Drywall," Chip called in a sing-song voice, "I've got something for you." Drywall's head suddenly popped out form under the table right into the chipmunk's lap. With a startled yelp, Chip nearly fell backwards in his chair but was caught by both Dale and Doohickey. "Look!" he addressed the weasel, presenting the bag, "A Bag-O-Mystery'!"
"Ooh!" Drywall cooed as he shoved his head into the bag. "There's nothing in there," he pointed out.
"Not now," Chip responded, "but it's a Bag-O-Mystery', who knows what might show up in there?"
Drywall emitted an amused little hmm' as he walked back to his seat, peering into the bag all the while. Once seated, he looked away for a moment, just in the off chance something was going on elsewhere... and in that moment, Dee tossed a piece of her venison steak into the open bag. Drywall quickly shoved his head back into his Bag-O-Mystery' and discovered the magical meat munchie and quickly devoured it.
Just as peace had been restored at their table, the manager arrived. "Excuse me, but we've had some complaints about your party," he stated, then looking specifically at Dee, "Miss Hawkfeather."
"Why are you lookin' at me?" Doohickey asked, a little insulted. "It was General Nuisance' over here that was doing the screaming," she pointed out, motioning to Drywall. The manager shifted his focus to the weasel who kept periodically shoving his head into a paper sack labeled Bag-O-Mystery'. It was then that he began to walk away, hoping desperately to avoid getting involved in whatever it was that the patrons at that table were doing.
As Dale watched the manager walk off he spied a pool table through one of the doors leading to the adjoining bar. "Hot doggies!" the chipmunk declared. "Hey, can I be excused?" Dale asked, not bothering to look back to his comrades, "I ate all my veggies!"
"Well, you didn't," Chip pointed out needlessly, "But go ahead, just don't..." But before he could finish his warning, Dale was gone. "...get hustled, again," Chip finished in a subdued tone.
"I'll see if I can keep him out of trouble," Foxglove offered as she got up to join Dale.
The rest continued with their meal and conversation, with different people periodically tossing a munchie into Drywall's bag to keep him preoccupied. Everyone had just about forgotten about Dale's absence, until he wandered back without his shirt and a bewildered look on his face.
"They got everything," Dale moaned, "My shirt, my chocolate bar, and my Captain Spiffo #67." Foxglove, who had followed Dale back, merely shrugged as if to say sorry, I tried'.
"Dale, you...!" Chip proceeded to yell, but caught himself and just growled out the rest of his anger. Then, keeping his voice at a tolerable level, "I tried to warn you not to let yourself get hustled... again!"
"But- I- they-," Dale stuttered in a vain attempt to explain away his mistake.
"Monty," Chip groaned, "Could you go win back Dale's shirt... again?"
"I'd love to mate," Monty began, "But I left me Linda back home."
"Linda?" Fangs asked.
"His lucky pool cue," Gadget pointed out.
"I'd do it," Dee offered, "But I've been banned from playing pool here... and a few other places."
"Why would you be banned?" Foxglove inquired.
"Having a mind-bashingly high IQ gave me an unfair advantage, being able to do all the calculations in my head and all," Dee explained, "Well, that and I had a tendency to carom balls off the skulls of people I didn't like."
"Mind-bashingly high IQ you say," Chip said as he looked over towards Gadget.
"What? Me?" Gadget asked, "But I don't know how to play pool."
"Don't worry, luv," Monterey replied, "I'll tel you all you need to know."
"And don't tell them you're Dee's sister," Chip advised as Monty, Gadget, Chip and Foxglove left for the bar.
"I'm also not allowed to participate in Snow Snake competitions either," Dee lamented.
"What's Snow Snake'?" Chip asked.
"It's a Seneca winter sport," Mr Tanner answered.
"Yeah, you build up this ridge of snow about waist high," Dee proceeded to explain, "and then you pull a long cylindrical thing along the top to make a nice smooth trough. The players then take a pole, run up to one end of the ridge and toss their pole onto the trough. Whoever's snake' slides the farthest wins."
"I'm almost afraid to ask," Chip began, "But how can you get banned from playing something like that?"
"Players are allowed to treat their poles with a resin to help minimize resistance, and some people use recipes handed down through the generations of their families," Dee prefaced, "But I decided to come up with my own."
"And it went the farthest," Raven guessed.
"All the way down the trough," Dee clarified, "Off the far end, sailed through the air and lodged into a tree... at which point it caught fire. That's when it was decided I couldn't play anymore, and was forbidden to tell anyone what recipe I used for the resin."
"There's no way she can make that shot," one rat muttered to his companion, "Doohickey couldn't make that shot."
His companion, fiddling with his cue, watched Gadget closely as she examined the position of the marbles on the improvised pool table. Much to his dismay, he was actually losing to her. He's right, he thought, there's no possibility she can make that shot. "How about this," he broached to his beautiful opponent, "Since you probably have better things to be doing with your time, we settle things with this one shot. You make this, and your friend gets his shirt, candy bar and comic book back... and if you miss-"
"I buy you dinner," Gadget replied, assuming the original deal still stood.
"I was thinking," the rat countered, "Since I'm offering to shorten the game, something I obviously don't have to do, just for you, I think it would only be fair for you to offer something extra."
"Now wait right there!" Monty began to intervene.
"Excuse me sir," the rat replied to Monty, "You're not the one I'm playing against. Unless you think this lady isn't enough of an adult to be making her own decisions, you think she is somehow incompetent... Do you really think so little of her?"
"What do you have in mind?" Gadget asked of her opponent.
"Well, that instead of you buying me dinner," he proceeded before leaning in to whisper into Gadget's ear.
The young lady's eyes widened considerably before she blurted out, "That's disgusting!"
"But if you're not confident you can make the shot then we can just go with the original deal," the rat quickly responded, "and play out the rest of the game. I wouldn't blame you, half the people I play against could never make that shot... There's no shame in admitting you lack the skill, that you're simply incapable." He looked Gadget over, trying to judge her frame of mind. "All in all you've played about as well as the other girls I've played against," he added with a dismissive air, "You can at least be proud of that."
Gadget was about to reject the offer, but Monty wasn't sure and gave her a gentle coax towards the side of caution, "It ain't worth it, luv."
"Yeah, Gadget, that shot's impossible!" Dale pointed out.
"Nothing's impossible, Dale," Gadget replied, "Only improbable."
"Then prove it," the rat declared, "Prove to me that you can make this shot."
"I don't-" Gadget started.
"Think you can make the shot?" the rat butted in, "Then you admit that it really is impossible... and that you lied to your friend, there."
"I didn't lie!" Gadget shot back.
"Then make the shot," the rat demanded, "or admit you're a liar."
Gadget glared at her opponent. "You're on!" she declared.
"Gadget!" Monty pushed in, "You don't have to do this, you know you're not a liar, we know you're not a liar..."
"Quiet, Monty," Gadget stopped him, "I need to think." The rat regarded his opponent with supreme contentment, not only had he duped her into going along him, he got her unsettled enough that she was almost certain to fail. As Gadget examined the table from different angles, she caught his gaze. She looked back to the table. Then to her opponent. Then the table. "Y'know," she stated, "You might get hurt standing there." Gadget pulled the rat over to a different position. "If I miscalculated the trajectory or the amount of force required I could break your nose or something... and that would probably make your victory rather hard to enjoy."
"Well, ok," the rat agreed, letting Gadget reposition him.
Gadget returned to the table and prepared for her shot.
"How many other games aren't you allowed to compete in?" Chip asked his fiancé after she had explained why no one would allow her to join in a lacrosse match. Dee was just about to reply...
Everyone turned towards the bar, from whence the odd noises had come. As they looked there was a small round of cheers. Most of the patrons in the restaurant simply returned to their meals, whereas Dee turned to Chip, "That sounded somewhat familiar."
Drywall had just raced over to the door to the bar when it flew open. Out strode Monterey, carrying Gadget triumphantly on his shoulder. "Great shot, luv!" he declared.
"Yeah, that was one in a million!" Dale joined in as he finished putting his shirt back on.
"Achully one in five thousand, three hundred and twenty-nine," Gadget replied as Monty set her back down on the floor.
"Was that sound what I thought it was?" Dee asked her sister with a smile.
"If you're referring to the sound of a marble ricocheting off an arrogant and disgusting rat's head," Gadget began, "Then, yes, it was."
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