Chip, Dale, Zipper and Monterey Jack usually tried to get in to the station for the morning briefing at least once a week. They got wind of most of their cases through the detective’s bullpen, but the morning briefing was a good way to keep a finger on the pulse of the city. This was where Detective Spinelli, the Day Watch Supervisor, put out any news that was of interest to the police department, such as known criminal activity, stolen vehicles, planned operations, and patrol assignments.
Most of the patrol division was already in their seats, including the duty SWAT guys and their medic, when Monterey, Zipper and the Chipmunks entered quietly through a ventilation duct and got settled on top of a burnt-out light fixture. “Looks pretty quiet today, Chip,” observed Monty. Chip nodded and pulled out a notebook; he usually took notes during the briefing. A couple of detectives and other plainclothes police officers were still exchanging gossip by the coffee urn when the door opened and an older, silver-haired, uniformed detective entered. The plainclothes guys looked up in surprise, but dutifully went to their seats as the silver-haired police officer set his notebook on top of the podium.
“Okay gentlemen, let’s take our seats please. I’m detective Lima from Third Precinct. I’m filling in for Detective Spinelli because he’s in the hospital.” He paused to let that sink in. Officers Kirby and Muldoon, seated in the front row, exchanged a look; they were friends of Spinelli’s. “I’ll be running the day watch until he’s able to resume his duties. The doctors aren’t sure, but they think he might have gotten that epidemic that’s going around. For anyone who wants to visit or send a card, he’s in room 416 at Mercy General.”
“Misery General,” some wag among the plainclothes officers interjected. A ripple of chuckles crossed the room.
“Alright, that’s enough of that,” Detective Lima warned. “On that note, City EMS has asked us to remind you guys not to take any chances with blood-borne diseases. They don’t know how this coma epidemic thing is transmitted from one person to the next, so use your BSI precautions. That means wear your gloves and masks, gentlemen, especially at accident scenes.” There were some subtle groans from the patrol division. “We’ve got a lot of cops on the sick list already, and it’s stretching the rest of us pretty thin.” Detective Lima consulted his notebook before continuing.
“Downtown, we’ve got some stores closed because their owners are also in the hospital. At least two of them are jewelry stores, so keep your eyes wide open down there for looting. You’ll get a list of the stores to watch from the dispatcher when you pick up your patrol log sheets.” Detective Lima consulted his notebook again.
“Kirby and Muldoon, you were the guys who followed up on the anonymous tip about Nimnul’s old lab being vandalized last month, right?”
“Uh, yes sir,” Muldoon answered him.
“Good. We’ve got some guy from the Department of Environmental Quality here doing a follow-up on that; wants to make sure that no hazardous materials were leaked or spilled. You two will take him up there and meet the Fire Department’s HAZMAT team there. Just keep him out of trouble while he inspects the place, the county wants to start tearing it down next week if he doesn’t find any problems.”
“No problem,” Muldoon said, as he and Kirby both rolled their eyes.
“Okay, that’s it everyone. Play it safe out there, and lets give the taxpayers what they pay for.” With that, chairs scraped as everyone got up to leave.
“That’s it?” said Dale.
“Guess so,” said Chip, putting away his notebook.
“Like I said,” said Monterey, “Nice and quiet.”
“Too quiet,” said Dale.
As Monterey Jack had predicted, the day watch was very quiet at the station. Even the dispatcher seemed bored. Most of the 911 calls that came in were for ambulance service. The detectives’ bullpen was quiet, until Detective Lima decided to put the time to good use and had the detectives go through the files and clear out the dead wood. They grumbled about it of course, but went about the task because it was something to do. After a couple of hours of watching the detectives pull dusty old files out of cabinets and put them in carefully marked boxes, Chip decided that the day was going to be a write-off. Monterey woke Dale and Zipper up and they left the station for a quick patrol.
First up, they checked up on the “Happy Cat” Cat Food Factory, known lair of the animal kingdom’s most notorious gangster, Fat Cat, but the casino was closed up and there were no outward signs of unusual activity for this time of day. Even Chinatown was quiet, which was unusual at any time of the day. The normally bustling open-air market was closed for business, and all of the vendors’ stalls were locked up and silent. There wasn’t even as much traffic as usual. Thus it was that it was still very early in the afternoon when Monty, Chip and Dale returned to Ranger HQ. It seemed as though the city would not need them today.
“You’re back early,” Gadget observed. “Something going on?”
“Strictly dullsville, Gadget-luv,” answered Monty. “The city’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop six blocks away.”
“Darn. I was hoping for a chance to test out a new invention.”
Dale, who was about to complain about how bored he was, was suddenly glad it was such a quiet day. He and Chip exchanged a look of relief.
“Don’t worry Gadget,” said Chip, “I’m sure you’ll get an opportunity soon. In the meantime you can work out any possible bugs in it.”
Gadget appeared confused. “There aren’t any insects in it at all, Chip. It’s battery-powered.”
Chip looked at Zipper, who shrugged and wandered off somewhere. When she’d been inventing, Gadget could take on a terribly literal turn of mind. Chip sat down and turned on the television to see what was on. By chance, he came across a press conference by the Surgeon General, who appeared quite weary.
“ . . . cases largely being reported across the Eastern Seaboard. Exposure west of the Mississippi River appears limited so far, with those exceptions in major population centers that I’ve already outlined. Although the government is aware of the effect this rather drastic step may have on interstate commerce, I have consulted with the President, and he is in agreement that interstate travel must be limited until the Center for Disease Control can determine what causes these unexplained comas. We’re not sure yet what the risk factors are for contracting this condition, we feel that the public’s health would be better protected if appropriate precautions were taken. At this time I’ll answer any questions you may have.”
There was a clamor of journalists off-camera until the Surgeon General selected one of them. “Sir, is this disease contagious, and if so are we facing a possible outbreak?”
“Again, we’re not sure what the vector of transmission may be, if there is one. These precautions are strictly that, precautions. Though the epidemic is wide-spread, I don’t think we should call it an outbreak. It doesn’t fit the criteria of rapid infection from one subject to the next.”
“Is it possible that this could be some sort of biological attack against the United States?”
“Let me start by saying that I find that to be an incredibly irresponsible question. I can state unequivocally that this is not a biological attack. Firstly, it does not involve any known contagion, and secondly, the epidemic is not limited to the United States.”
“Sir, by that do you mean that there have been cases reported outside the United States?”
The Surgeon General took a deep breath. “Yes.” A murmur arose from the journalists and flashbulbs popped. “Cases have been reported in Europe, South America, the Middle East, Japan and Australia.”
“About how many victims of the epidemic are there worldwide sir?”
“We don’t have exact figures, and it’s likely that some cases have gone unreported. The nearest estimate I can make is somewhere around sixty thousand.” There was another murmur and more flashes.
“Have there been any deaths?”
“No fatalities have been reported in connection with the coma epidemic. I’ll take one more question.”
“Sir, given the global scope of the epidemic, are we doing enough to combat it globally?”
“The U.S. Department of Public Health is working in close concert with the public health agencies of other nations in the quest to discover what’s causing this epidemic, and how we can put a stop to it. That’s all the questions I have time for.” The Surgeon General departed, as the journalists attempted to fire more questions at him.
“Golly, this is serious,” said Gadget. “I had no idea that the problem was world-wide.” Chip turned around to find that the other members of the team were standing behind him, also watching. He quickly turned the television off.
“Best not to worry about it Gadget-luv,” said Monty gently. “There’s not much we can do about it in any event.”
“You mean there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Gadget, “but I can’t help worrying all the same.” An uncomfortable silence descended.
“Well,” Monty said, “I’m off to the store. I need to pick up some cheese and a few other things.” Zipper buzzed in agreement and left with his friend.
“Yeah,” said Dale. I’ve gotta go . . . clean up. For Foxglove.” Dale also left.
“I think I’ll double check my new invention, make sure everything works like it’s supposed to.” Gadget went to her workshop and closed the door.
Chip remained on the couch for a bit, lost in thought, before he too left through the front door. Outside, he sat quietly on a branch and watched the people in the park below.
Monterey Jack came back from the store loaded down with provisions, including cheese of course. Once he had everything put away he immediately busied himself preparing his infamous Chili Cheese Surprise, a recipe that was guaranteed to produce severe gastric discomfort in anyone who ate too much and wasn’t used to it. Dale had already returned to the television and put cartoons on, having apparently satisfied whatever his definition of “cleaning up” might have been. Gadget, by comparison, only needed a little bit of help to clean up after her invention misfired, but otherwise the afternoon progressed quietly until dinnertime. Monty made too much, so a lot wound up stored in the icebox for another day.
The sunset brought Foxglove, of course, well rested, cheerful and carrying a basket. “Hi guys. How did your day go?” Her presence did much to alleviate the gloomy atmosphere that had descended on Ranger HQ since the Surgeon General’s announcements.
“Pretty relaxing actually,” called Monty from the kitchen, where he was cleaning up. “Would you like some Chili Cheese Surprise? It’ll only take me a moment to heat some up.”
Foxglove caught sight of Dale shaking his head vigorously. “Er, some other night maybe. I brought a snack for Dale and me. I tried out a recipe yesterday that I found in a Japanese cookbook. I think it’s pronounced ‘tsukimi-dango’.”
“Golly Foxglove,” said Gadget, much impressed, “I didn’t know you could cook. Where did you find a Japanese cookbook?”
“Probably in my old stuff,” Monty said.
“Uh-huh!” said Foxglove, nodding.
“What’s a soo-keemie whatsit anyhow?” Dale wanted to know.
“Dango. Moon dumplings, if I remember correctly,” said Monty. “Never tried that recipe myself, no cheese.” He grinned broadly. “It’s a pastry meant to be eaten while admiring the full moon.”
“Oh?” said Chip. He went and sat next to Dale on the couch. Though in truth he was happy for Dale and Foxglove, he wasn’t about to pass up a chance to needle his old friend. “Sounds like you have some plans for later, eh Dale?” he asked, nudging him in the ribs with his elbow.
“I remember when I got that cookbook from a Shinto priestess in Shi’zuma,” Monty reminisced.
“Dale promised me we would go for a moonlight walk in the park after the movie,” said Foxglove.
“Gee, that sounds romantic,” said Gadget.
“Gee, doesn’t it?” said Chip, elbowing Dale again.
“Cut it out Chip,” said Dale under his breath. Luckily for him, Gadget caught wind of what was going on.
“Actually Chip,” she said, taking hold of his paw and giving him a smile, “I’ve got some work to do on the Ranger Plane that I’ll need your help with.”
“Now? Er, sure Gadget,” said Chip. He got up and followed her out of the room. Of course, he’d have probably followed her out of the country even, as long as she smiled at him like that.
Monty took the hint. “I think I’ll just turn in early. Never know, might be a big day tomorrow.” He headed off to his room. Zipper squeaked something that sounded like “yeah, right”, and followed suit.
Foxglove came around the couch with her basket and sat next to Dale, giving him a quick peck before he could protest. She put her basket on the table and asked, “So when does the movie start?”
Dale looked over at the clock and said, “In about half an hour. Where did you learn to cook?”
“From watching Winifred actually,” said Foxglove. “There can’t be that much difference between preparing a potion and preparing a snack.” Dale didn’t seem so sure. “Oh come on, Dale. I tried one myself and they’re perfectly all right.”
“What did you make them with?” asked Dale suspiciously.
“Oh, just the usual. Eye of newt, tongue of salamander, that kind of thing,” Foxglove said. Dale reacted with a horrified look, but Foxglove just giggled at him; she couldn’t pull off her act any longer. Dale realized she was pulling his leg.
“Uh, I’m just going to make some popcorn for the movie.” Dale got up and went into the kitchen.
“Okay,” said Foxglove. She went and got a blanket for the two of them while she was waiting.
Dale managed to make popcorn without making a mess. It helped that he remembered to use only a few kernels this time. He finished up and came back in, turning out the lights along the way, just as the opening credits were starting to roll. Foxglove held open the blanket for him, but he sat down without noticing and started munching on the popcorn. Disappointed, Foxglove pushed the blanket aside and took a kernel. On the screen was a large brown bat, but Foxglove thought it looked fishy. Clearly it was a puppet on a wire.
“That doesn’t even look like a real bat,” she said.
“I know,” said Dale. “This movie’s kinda old, and it has some corny special effects in it, but Christopher Lee is just great in this role. Just watch, you’ll see.”
The movie seemed important to Dale, so Foxglove tried to watch it for about half an hour or so, but truth be told, the sight of blood made her queasy. So she decided to watch Dale instead. Dale’s attention however, was essentially fixed by turns on the television and the popcorn. Foxglove arranged herself on the sofa to present a more flattering aspect of herself to Dale, but he seemed not to notice. Pretending to yawn and stretching, she extended a wing in front of his eyes, but Dale just brushed it aside gently. Foxglove took a deep breath, feeling somewhat neglected, and let it out in a sigh. Then, snuggling up close to him, she gently blew in his ear. This produced a curt “Cut it out Foxy, this is a big scene coming up!”
Humph! Foxglove glared at Dale, then glanced at the TV again, hands on hips. The creepy-looking guy with the tuxedo and cape was back on the screen again. Foxglove didn’t want to watch, and Dale was being a real stick-in-the-mud, so she got up in a huff and went into the kitchen to make some more popcorn, not that Dale noticed.
As Foxy waited for Gadget’s popper to heat up, she thought about Dale and his addiction to these silly movies. Dale’s ideas about vampires had been an early stumbling block in their relationship, because of their propensity to turn into bats. The fact that Foxglove had rather prominent fangs hadn’t helped matters either. The moment that she’d gained Dale’s love and trust was the happiest in her life, but it turned out to be a difficult treasure to hold on to. Dale was very distractible. Foxglove watched the full moon outside the kitchen window as she pondered what to do . . . until the sound of the corn kernels popping brought her back to the here and now. Distractedly, she emptied the popped corn into the bowl and shut off the popper.
Dale was still staring at the screen, where the creepy-looking guy was menacing the heroine. Foxy determined to get his mind off that rubbish once and for all, and put it on to better things, like her for example. This will get his attention, she thought, and, still carrying the popcorn, she snuck up quietly behind him and planted a big smooch . . . right on his neck.
“YEEOWIEEE-YOW!” Popcorn went flying everywhere, and poor Dale almost hit a cloud, at least, that was the general direction he was headed until the solid and rather painful-looking intervention of the ceiling. Dale landed in a crumpled heap on the sofa, much to Foxglove’s consternation. Her amorous mood was suddenly chilled by a very real concern that she might have accidentally hurt her lover.
“Dale!” She rushed around the sofa and knelt beside him, cradling his head in her lap, and suddenly the lights came on.
First into the room was Monterey Jack, with Zipper close behind him. Monty was carrying a large wooden carving he’d picked up on one of his travels, brandishing it like a club. “Crikey! What in the blue blazes was that?!!”
Chip ran in next, with Gadget close behind him. “What happened?” Chip demanded.
“Oh, ermmmm . . . you heard that?” Foxglove asked. Dale was beginning to stir.
“The whole park heard that,” Chip replied.
“Golly, what happened to Dale?” Gadget asked, now that she saw him.
“Yeah,” Dale responded feebly, “did anyone get the license number of that street sweeper?”
“Oh Dale,” Foxglove moaned, wrapping her wings protectively around him, “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry . . .”
“Yeowch!” Dale complained, as Foxglove brushed against a newly tender spot on his head. “Ow, my head . . .”
Gadget, seeing that Foxglove was near tears as it was, sat down next to her and took one wing in both of her paws, and asked as gently as she could, “Now Foxglove, try to calm down and tell us what happened.”
Foxglove sniffed and looked at Gadget. “Well, Dale was watching one of those movies,” here, Gadget nodded sympathetically, “and I kind of snuck up behind him, and . . .” unable to continue, Foxglove pointed up at the new dent in the ceiling.
“Wham-o,” Dale finished for her, holding his head.
“Is that all?” Chip asked. Foxglove nodded pitifully.
Monty set his carving down and leaned on it. “No worries mates, just a bit of harmless fun gone wrong, that’s all. Still though, looks like it’ll be one whopper of a goose egg there.”
Gadget pushed Dale’s paw aside and examined his head. There was a minor cut, and the area around it was already starting to swell. “Monty’s right. I’d better bandage it up.” Gadget got up and went into her workshop to fetch the first aid supplies. Chip sighed in exasperation, and busied himself picking up the popcorn. There were only six kernels anyhow.
“Don’t worry luv,” Monty reassured Foxglove, “he’s taken worse cracks on the noggin than that and bounced right back. Takes more’n that to stop me little pally Dale here.” He grinned broadly as Dale gave him a thumbs-up. Zipper yawned and landed on his shoulder. “Got a point there, Zipper. If you won’t be needing us, we’ll just trot off back to bed.” Monty yawned and turned, taking his sculpture with him. He paused at the door to his room, turned back and said, “Just take it easy on the furniture there, will ya?” With a wink, he shut the door.
Gadget returned with the bandages, and Foxglove watched with alert interest and concern as she cleaned up the wound and wrapped a bandage around it. Dale, for his part, held as still as he could and occasionally winced in pain, while Foxglove held his paw. She was profoundly relieved that he wasn’t mad, or badly hurt.
As Gadget finished up, Foxglove had just about composed herself, and announced, to no one in particular, “Well, at least this way I get one of my wishes.”
“Oh really?” Gadget asked, “Which one?”
Foxglove giggled and snuggled up to Dale. “I get to nurse my man back to health,” she said with a grin.
Chip stifled a laugh as Dale rolled his eyes, but Gadget shot him a warning look, so he also announced, “Well, it’s getting late, so I’m going to bed. Try not to break anything else tonight knucklehead,” and then Chip went to the room he and Dale normally shared.
When not being distracted by some invention or technical problem, Gadget had no trouble seeing beyond the end of her nose. “Well, you do a good job then Foxglove, Dale’s important to all of us. Dale, you’d better lie down and take it easy, you don’t want your injury to get worse.” She shut off the television, much to Foxglove’s relief, and picked up the first aid kit and took it back to her shop.
Foxglove sat back on the couch, smiling coyly, and gave Dale a “come here” gesture with one wingtip. “You’d better lie down Dale,” she said, patting her thigh, “doctor’s orders.”
Dale could see where this was heading, but knew that if he refused the invitation, it would only hurt her feelings, so with a smile and a “Yes, nurse,” he lay down with his head in Foxy’s lap. Foxglove reached over him and retrieved her blanket, carefully covering both Dale and herself with it. She looked up only briefly when Gadget re-entered, going from her shop to her room.
“Um, did you want the lights on or off?”
“Off is fine, please,” Foxglove replied. Gadget nodded and shut off the lights on her way out. Without the television on, the common area was dark and quiet, but only for a moment.
“Dale . . . sweetie,” Foxglove said with some trepidation.
Sigh “I know Foxy.”
Gadget passed another restless night filled with disturbing visions. Again, the strange green maelstrom invaded her dreams, howling like some sort of demon. Gadget had a definite sense of foreboding, as if somehow this emerald cyclone was the key to something. In spite of the fear the whirlwind produced within her, Gadget was tempted to get closer and investigate the shrieking wind. It seemed to her as though the storm itself was wailing like a lost soul . . .
Gadget awoke with a start, suddenly aware that the wailing was coming from the common area, and sounded distinctly like Foxglove. In a sudden access of worry, Gadget leapt out of bed and rushed to see what was the matter.
Foxglove was seated on the sofa, more or less where she had been last night, still cradling Dale’s head in her lap. She was crying in a most piteous manner. “Foxglove, what’s wrong?” Gadget asked.
Foxglove turned to Gadget, her eyes bright with tears. “Oh Gadget, Dale won’t wake up!”
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