Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Ten: Rat, Bat, Dancing Mouse
Chip sneezed. He wiped his nose on the sleeve of his raincoat and looked forward to getting back into his old bomber jacket and fedora. There was no doubt about it. He had a fever and headache and he was going to need bed rest before Gadget was walking again. Separate beds in different rooms, worse luck, he thought to himself. He grimaced. He should be ashamed of himself for thinking like that.
The chipmunk detective turned his thoughts to worthier things.
He had called in a favour the Park Council owed him to pay the debt to the crow. They had agreed to provide the bird with six meals, a place to sleep for two nights and an introduction to an unattached female crow of similar age. The last condition had caused some embarrassed faces amongst the petty bureaucrats and politicians who administered the Park territories but they had little choice. With Gadget's name not just cleared but also nearly sainted by the injuries she had suffered in the museum robbery, it was hard to imagine a request they could refuse.
The reporter Chip had punched had come back demanding an apology or an exclusive, preferably both, until Monty encouraged him to seek medical attention instead. In fact, Monty had made it a necessity for the reporter to seek medical attention instead.
Chip hoped that Gadget would be up to full strength soon. She was a civilizing influence on all of them and one that he suddenly realised was sorely needed.
Dale had been overjoyed to see his best friend again but Chip had been forced to hit him over the head after Dale had insisted on reciting the entire Dead Parrot Sketch from Monty Python. Chip would swear that he would never know how that chipmunk's mind worked. Dale had taken it well, and seemed calmer and happier afterwards for some reason. That helped Chip, in turn, to relax.
Zipper was keeping a careful eye on Gadget's door and had promised to raise the alarm if anyone who didn't belong there tried to gain access.
Doctor Bell, who had been treating Gadget because her regular doctor was on vacation, had promised that once he had seen his other patients he would find time to talk to Chip about Gadget's injuries, keeping the press out of the building and Chip's access to visit Gadget while he was infectious. At the thought that he had come all this way and couldn't talk to Gadget because of a sniffle, Chip scowled and accidentally sent a junior nurse fleeing for her life.
All in all, Chip thought things were under control. He could spend the rest of the day catching up on what he had missed while he was away and in the morning he would start working the museum case.
He was tempted to find out more about the mouse who had been convicted of impersonating Gadget the authorities were still without a better name than "Jane Doe" from what he'd heard but she was safely under lock and key.
The four crooks responsible for Gadget being in hospital, on the other hand, were not.
The museum mice, the newspapers and the Street Watch all said that the robbers were "missing presumed dead" but Chip didn't believe it for a second.
For one thing, no trace of the bodies had been found. From a rodent's point of view, no predator is that tidy with its food. Discovering a stray finger or tail would definitely count as finding a trace of the robbers. Since nothing had been found at all that meant the robbers left the scene intact, one way or another.
A predator might have snagged a single body, much like a human passing a plate of donuts and for the same reason, but generally such animals used their mouths to carry a victim, which limited the number of bodies they could carry. True, that was not the case for larger animals, such as mountain lions, but the cat problem in the neighbourhood wasn't that bad!
If the choices were limited to alley cat or crow then Chip had to conclude that either more than one predator had been involved, or one predator made more than one trip. The museum mice hadn't taken long enough to reaching the crash site for one predator to make several trips unobserved. That crossed out the chance that one animal had taken all the robbers. As for the possibility of a group of predators; alley cats were solitary hunters, which let them out; crows would have been noisy about it and been noticed by the museum mice.
The more Chip thought about it, the more he was certain.
Four desperate criminals had hurt Gadget and nearly pulled off the biggest rodent robbery of all time in his city, dang it and escaped unnoticed in the confusion that followed!
Now they had a six-day head start, all the ill-gotten gains of their previous jobs and probably a pre-planned escape route. Chip had a wrecked plane and a fragmented, disorganised team that was minus one of its key members.
Catching up with the bad guys wasn't going to be easy. By now, they could be on the other side of the world.
"Why are we still here? We should be on the other side of the world by now!" Pierre's cockney accent had become more noticeable under the stress of waiting. In fact, Lawhiney's four friends were hiding out in the basement of the Cosgrove Hotel, under Chip's very feet.
Brandon snarled at the dishevelled con artist. "'Cause no one feels like leaving, that's why. If you feel different from the rest, the door's over that way; otherwise, sit down."
Normally Pierre was the leader of the group in Lawhiney's absence but the con artist's nerves had been shattered by the crash, which had left Brandon to pick up the pieces and command their retreat. For months the biker mouse had chafed at playing second fiddle to the phoney French rat. Now Brandon knew why he had put up with it: being responsible for everyone else all the time sucked.
As if it wasn't bad enough that he had to look out for everyone else's mistakes as well as his own, he had to do all the thinking, too! And thinking wasn't Brandon's strong suit, either. He hadn't even thought to pick up some of their loot before they fled the crash site. Admittedly, he had been occupied with helping to carry Shaka Baka's unconscious body at the time but the Hawaiian mouse had done nothing thing but complain about his missing tooth since then and Brandon had begun to question how clearly he had been thinking when he had taken the trouble to rescue the overgrown baby.
Lawhiney wouldn't have bothered to rescue Shaka Baka; that was for sure. If it came to that, Brandon suspected that Lawhiney wouldn't have hesitated to leave him for dead either, in spite of the good times they had shared. The memory of one particular good time arose, unbidden and unwanted, in his mind's eye. He remembered Lawhiney's eyes sparkling in the sunlight of a midsummer's day. Her laughter teasing him the in long grass that grew above the high tide line. The scent of her hair in the night, when they celebrated after robbing the grain silos at Redreach.
"We've got to come up with a new plan." Brandon snarled at them and resumed his pose, a sitting position, with his chin resting on his fist and his elbow resting on his knee. The truth was he wasn't thinking at all. He was sulking. He didn't have the faintest idea what to do next. They ought to be running or trying to think of a way to recover their lost loot, but no-one's heart was in it.
Looking back, Brandon realised that it had been Lawhiney who had brought them together, Lawhiney who had kept them together and Lawhiney who had chosen every single goal they had ever pursued. The more Brandon thought about it, the more surprised he was at himself. He had been taking orders from a woman for the past few months without even noticing. Him: Brandon, the mouse who had fought six rats single-handedly and once put a small cat to flight.
Brandon's expression grew darker and moodier. How many times had Lawhiney had come to him with some idea or scheme that she wanted him to propose to the others for her? Every time Lawhiney wanted the gang to do something dangerous, or something that benefited her and her alone, just where did she turn for support? To him, Brandon, that's who. And what did he get in return? More often than not, just a peck on the cheek and followed by a sultry voice that whispered in his ear "maybe next time " or "You'll have to catch me first!"
She had owed him more than that. Who else was there that she could turn to? Who else had supported her when no one else would? Then, as Brandon thought back and remembered times when each of the others had indeed been the lone voice of support for one of Lawhiney's schemes, the questions in his mind slowly became "Which of the others had she turned to?" and "What had she given them in return?"
"Brandon? Are you okay?"
Lorrie's wheezy voice grated across Brandon's nerves. The biker mouse looked up at the inventor but all Brandon could see was Lawhiney with the mole instead of him. The thought that Lawhiney had made a fool of him exploded in his brain. It was like a match head flaring behind each eye.
Fine, Brandon thought, if that's the way it was between her and me I'm out of here. She can rot in jail once they work out who she really is. I don't care and I'm sure not going to sit around worrying about her like these other saps.
He wanted to get up and walk out the door without looking back, right there and then, but something kept him sitting, his face frozen. He turned it around in his mind a couple of times and when he recognized it for what it was, he got the shock of his life. It was belief. Belief in Lawhiney and her ability to smooth talk her way out of trouble even from a hospital bed.
Brandon didn't know for sure how she would do it but he found it easy to imagine her spinning some sob story to the Street Watch, the Museum Mice, the Rangers, or whatever group of big strong males with a weakness for teary big blue eyes wanted to listen to a hard luck tale. It would be a sob story about having made a few mistakes in her time, sure, but never having done anything really wrong until she was kidnapped, or blackmailed, or threatened by the bad guys who made her commit all those terrible crimes.
Brandon ground his teeth. "Lorrie," he whispered, "did Lawhiney ever ask you to do her a favour? A special one that you couldn't mention to the rest of us?"
The mole's eye bulged with fright. "No, Brandon, certainly not. I mean, sure, she asked for favours, we all ask each other for favours now and again. Shaka wants to hear me explain what makes an aeroplane stay up- again -and I tell him and if I want something heavy carried, you and Shaka help get it for me and Pierre wants whatever it is Pierre wants and we help him out. It's normal to ask your friends for favours." The mole's voice rose and fell with fear as he spoke.
"Did she ever ask you to suggest something to the rest of us that she didn't want to suggest herself? Or agree with something she said even though the rest of us didn't agree?"
The mole let out a sound more like a gasp than a laugh. "Of course not. I mean what kind of favour would that be? Just to agree to something?"
Brandon jumped up and grabbed the mole by his shoulders. "I'll give you just one chance to tell me before I shake you until your teeth rattle, you second rate extra from a horror movie!"
"Yes, yes! She asked me to say that I thought going after the pearl was a good idea when I didn't! She knew you and Pierre didn't want to take it and Shaka always votes the way she tells him to and she needed my vote to make it three to two! And now you know and- and you'll do something terrible to me because it's my fault that we went there and she got hurt. Well, I don't care, do you hear? I deserve it, go ahead! Do your worst!"
Brandon let the mole go. Lorrie remained standing where he was, his chin high and his eyes closed as he waited for a punch that never came. Brandon looked across the room at Pierre. The rat's eyes met his and there was a long pause between them. Finally the rat nodded, once, just enough that he could deny it later and Brandon sank back down into his chair, laughing.
Lorrie peaked at him to see what was so funny.
Brandon continued laughing for a while and when he stopped he was wearing a smile as predatory as any cat's. "Well, don't we make a fine pack of jokers? If laughter is the best medicine, Lawhiney could probably cure every person in this place by telling everybody how she wrapped us all around her little finger."
Shaka looked at all of them and blinked. "I don' ge' it." He gummed around his missing tooth. "Wha'sh sho funny? Lawhiney w'apsh eve'yone a'ound her pinkie. 'Atsh what she doesh."
Pierre leaned forward, watching Brandon's expression carefully. "What's our next move, Brandon? Do we just leave her? Get out of town?"
"No, I don't think so. I don't think it would sit right. It wouldn't sit right with any of us." Brandon answered, noting that the cockney rat's pretend French accent had returned.
"Then what's your plan?"
"First off, Lorrie takes Shaka Baka to a dentist. He's the only one out of all of us that the Rangers might recognize and, besides, his spluttering is starting to get on my nerves. Then we find out when Lawhiney, or rather Gadget, is getting out of here. Lorrie, when me and Pierre finish scouting this place and figure out an escape route, we're probably going to need some kind of transport again. I hear the Rangers have got a second plane but I don't think we can get that lucky twice, even with them distracted."
"Why not? They don't even know the first one was stolen." Lorrie suggested.
"No, it's too risky. We aren't that lucky. Raid a toy store if you have to. I don't care if it's balsawood and paper, so long as it's got power and it can fly; preferably fly fast and further than the city limits. Once Pierre and I have a plan for getting her out of here tell you where and when to meet us with in the aeroplane."
"But Brandon, she's sick!" Lorrie objected, fretfully. "We can't just wheel her out in a hospital bed!"
"Ah, we won't do anything until the Doctor's say she's ready to leave. Best bet is to wait until she's being pushed out of here in a wheel chair and then sorta divert her. Pierre and me will work out the details, won't we Pierre?" Brandon smiled coldly at Pierre. "I'm looking forward to spending some quality time with Lawhiney again I want to let her know how I really feel about her."
Gadget didn't want to sleep.
It was late afternoon. Sleep now meant that she would be awake later, after lights out. Sometimes the other patients made noises after lights out; mostly sleeping noises but one babbled in her sleep, about the things the voices of all her fathers had made her do, and one night someone had started screaming about the experiments the humans had done on her. The cells were close together and mice have sensitive hearing.
Despite the insulation of the bubble wrap Gadget had already heard more than she wanted to from the other inmates on her cellblock.
Unfortunately Gadget had eaten all her food pellets like a good little nutcase to keep the orderlies happy and there had been more of them than usual. By the time she drank the water too, she realised that she was as full as she had ever been after one of Monty's spreads and that the extra food was making her sleepy along with the boredom.
So she slept.
First came the dark behind her eyelids, along with the flashes of black with hints of red, green and blue that you get if your eyes have been closed too long. Her thoughts drifted and, because these were Gadget's thoughts, they were like super-tankers filled with oil, looking for a reef to break them and thunderstorm to turn the sky to flame.
Gadget never remembered her dreams, except the ones about her father and, more rarely, the ones about her mother. In this dream she found neither, but she remembered it nonetheless
Gadget found herself at the centre of a bright light, which was only to be expected - she was centre stage and what a crowd had packed into the club to see her tonight! For a moment, she felt like she was glued to the spot and all she could do was squint into the half-light of the club floor and try to guess how many people were there.
There was Baloo, with some strange, tall guy who was wearing a moustache that looked too old for the rest of his small head, even in the bad light at the back of the room. Sitting across the room from them was a bright blue hedgehog with his feet up on the table. He was wearing neon red running shoes but Gadget didn't know him. Next to him was a character who wore a dark trench coat and a fedora the same colour as Chip's but all Gadget could see of his face were the long fangs that seemed hang from his mouth all the way down to his collar bones.
Gadget, vaguely aware that she was dreaming, decided that the hedgehog's friend wasn't Chip. She had a strong feeling Chip was somewhere else.
In the front row were a crowd of baying male humans with wide, glazed eyes. Behind them she recognized characters from Dale's favourite cartoon, Animaniacs. Slappy Squirrel gave Gadget a quick smile, from her table for one. Next to that table the Warner Bothers were easily recognizable behind false beards. Gadget had an uncomfortable feeling their sister, Dot, was far closer to hand than a girl of her age should be.
Everybody was waiting for Gadget to do something and she suspected it wasnt to explain the laws of thermodynamics. From somewhere, music started. The first few bars of the brassy melody brought back memories and she knew where she was at last. Glancing down she confirmed it: She was wearing a parody of her normal blue engineer's jumpsuit, but it was far more revealing than some of the dresses she had worn- the neck line plunged to the waist and Velcro fastenings where the costume could break apart and be removed entirely tickled her neck and arms.
Gadget peered out at the crowd nervously "Isn't this the part where I normally wake up?" She worried.
"Dance, Gadget! Dance!" a friendly voice urged her from the wings.
And then came Ratigan. "Oh yes," the rat's deep voice purred from the shadows of the wings, "Dance, Gadget. Dance."
"You!" Gadget yelped.
"You can't keep your public waiting forever." Ratigan chuckled. "They'll hate you if you don't give them the song and dance they were expecting."
"I'll hate myself if I give them the song and dance they want!" Gadget hissed back. "I can't do it!"
Ratigan sighed and made a gesture with one hand. The music stopped dead and the big, mirrored ball in the centre of the ceiling stopped turning. Gadget squinted into the darkness and saw that the audience were caught between one moment and the next, like the people in a photograph. The next thing Gadget knew, Ratigan was up on stage alongside her, sniffing into a handkerchief and giving her the kind of long disappointed look that primary school teachers gave to usually well-behaved pupils who have just been caught writing on the walls.
"Oh, Gadget. I'm afraid you don't really understand your own heart, do you?"
"Sure I do! It's right here and beats at about-"
"Oh no. Spare me the biology lesson. I'm not talking about some bloody pump in your chest. I'm talking about your innermost feelings and desires. Your hopes and dreams." Ratigan leaned closer, his eyes large and shining. "The things that make you who you really are."
"I don't think I want to talk about those." Gadget said doubtfully. "I mean they're called innermost feelings for a reason. They're buried pretty far inside and if something's buried that deep, it's usually for a good reason."
"Come now, my dear, surely that's not an answer worthy of a Rescue Ranger? It's so uncourageous, why it practically borders on cowardly." Ratigan let the last word drip from his mouth like treacle.
Gadget folded her arms and glared silently back at him.
"After all-" the rat went on "-it's not as if someone with the nerve to face down Fat Cat has anything to fear from her own feelings, is it? A feeling isn't as real as a cat's claw and if it does hurt you, it won't damage you the way that tooth and claw will."
"True," Gadget allowed "but hurt feelings still hurt all the same."
"That may be the case but, you have to admit, any hurt feeling a person might experience can be dealt with by the simple application of reason. The rational mind takes place over the emotional one, does it not?"
"Yes, of course."
"Excellent. And as a rational person, you know adage "'first, know thyself'"."
"The ancient Greeks thought that before you could observe the world and work out how it worked, you had to know who was doing the observing. It's a fair assumption."
"Then, if only as a mouse of science, you should owe it to yourself to confront your inner-self."
"I certainly can't reject your argument but I still don't know if I want to go messing about in my Id. Especially not on the say so of someone I'm only dreaming about."
"You, ah ha, know you're dreaming?" Ratigan frowned at her, rubbing his chin worriedly.
"Sure! I have this dream all the time!"
"Really?" Ratigan eyed her up and down, surreptitiously. His expression was bewildered.
"Usually I wake up when the music starts playing but, the first time I had the dream, I knew I was up here to do something important and I couldn't remember what so I just made a speech explaining that I'd forgotten what I was supposed to do and apologising. Then, suddenly, when I looked down-" Gadget caught herself just in time.
"Yes?" Ratigan smiled broadly.
"Uh, I woke up. That's all. Yeah, I just woke up." Gadget didn't look at him until the end of the sentence and, then, it was as though she were checking to see whether or not he was buying it.
Ratigan let the silence scuttle back and forth between them like a cockroach.
Gadget didn't know why Ratigan wasn't talking. She had talked last, which meant that it was his turn. She was careful to keep track of things like that; as a child, her father had spoken to her several times about how important it was to let other people have their turn to speak. Monty always wanted to know if her father had mentioned the importance of listening to what they had to say while it was their turn. As it happened, her father hadn't but Gadget didn't see what that had to do with anything.
"What exactly would I have to do to confront my innermost feelings?" she asked.
"Why nothing, my dear, almost nothing." Ratigan purred, towering over her.
Gadget took a step back and was alarmed to feel something flat and solid at her back. Ratigan's huge form cut off her view of the rest of the room, except for the spotlight, which seemed to be coming closer- or was the room shrinking?
"Just lie back and let me do all the work " Ratigan insinuated.
Gadget was about to object when she realised the thing behind her was a hospital surgical trolley and that Ratigan's words were meant literally. Then next thing she knew, she was flat on her back, dressed in surgical gowns with a blazing operating room light overhead.
Gadget gulped, hard. She was prepped for surgery and she had a feeling Ratigan was going to start playing Doctor any second. When she tried to get up, she found she was strapped to the table. She wondered how Ratigan had managed to do that without her noticing.
"Ah, now where do we begin?" Ratigan hummed, holding up a copy of "Watson's Surgery for Beginners" with one hand as he adjusted a pair of half-moon reading glasses with the other. "Ah, yes. First the anaesthetic gas to send you to sleep. But wait! You're already asleep so we'll just skip that part and move onto the next one. The first incision." Ratigan stood with his profile to Gadget and smiled broadly as he held up a scalpel. His eyes glittered until he turned them from her face to the blade and saw how small it was- barely the length of a finger! Ratigan's face fell. He threw the blade carelessly over his shoulder.
"Um, Professor Ratigan, what exactly is it you're hoping to achieve?"
Ratigan removed his top hat and began fishing around in it. "Why, I want to make you all better, my dear." He said, pulling a rusty switchblade out of the hat. "I want to reach inside and pull out all the bits that are making you hurt."
"But I thought you said you believed me? That you know I'm Gadget Hackwrench?"
"I said hurt, not delude. Hmm. No, I don't think so." He discarded the rusty switchblade and tried again. This time he found a bloody carving knife that seemed too big to have been inside the hat to begin with. "Ha, hardly big enough for a heart the size of Gadget Hackwrench's! Still, we're getting there."
"Professor Ratigan, I'd like to thank you for your attention but I'm choosing to refuse medical treatment at this time!" Gadget tried.
"Refuse? Why, of course, who wouldn't refuse to be treated with such shoddy, inadequate implements. You deserve something far more- ah, here it is!" Ratigan held up a huge, shining crescent of steel.
Gadget blinked. She recognized the weapon; it was an alien melee weapon from one of the human's science fiction TV shows that Dale loved so much. The show was Deep Space something-or-other. What was it called? A bat-laugh? "Please," she said, "don't even touch me with that thing."
"Thing? What thing? You mean the carving knife? Oh, I already put that away."
"No, I mean that thing. The one in your hand."
Ratigan looked stupidly at his top hat, from which he had (impossibly) produced the bat'leth then looked back at Gadget. "Why, of course not, Miss Hackwrench. I'd never do a thing like that." And then, still looking at her out of the corner of his eye to watch her expression, Ratigan placed the top hat on his head. "It wouldn't look nearly as good on you."
"NO!" Gadget yelped. "Not that hand!" But it was too late, Ratigan was already pulling a surgical mask over her face and her voice was fading to a low mumble behind the fabric. The logical part of Gadget's mind turned over in its sleep a thin cotton surgical mask shouldn't muffle her voice that much!
"Now, we wouldn't want you to see anything that would give you nightmares after the operation, now, would we? Hmm?" Ratigan leered at her.
Gadget frowned and wondered if he was planning to blindfold her as well. Instead he put up a surgical tent, a sheet that hung across the table to block Gadget's view of the rest of her body. In a real operation, it was supposed to stop the patient from getting upset. In these circumstances it only served to add to Gadget's anxiety.
"Ah ha! Now, ever so gently but firmly, we make the first incision " Ratigan hummed to himself.
"Mmfffph!" Gadget objected strongly.
Ratigan sliced downwards with all his strength. Gadget squealed in panic.
"There we go! All done." Ratigan told her cheerfully.
Gadget blinked in surprise. She hadn't felt a thing. Had Ratigan really cut her? Or was this just another step in the macabre game he was playing? Then he stepped into sight holding the blade high. Gadget's felt queasy when she saw blood along the edge.
Ratigan discarded the weapon and made a show of rolling up his sleeve. "Here we go! We'll soon see what makes Gadget Hackwrench tick!" he declared with a wicked snarl.
To Gadget's horror, the mad professor put his arm into her chest, right up to his elbow.
Gadget almost fainted. Then she realised that since she was dreaming she was technically already unconscious, which meant fainting was impossible. She was just double-checking her logic to make sure fainting wasn't a possible way out, when Ratigan's arm disappeared up to his shoulder. That meant that there was more arm in her chest than there was room inside her chest for arm, Gadget was sure. Before she could think it through, the Professor had removed his arm along with a ragged and badly singed cuddly toy in the shape of a little mouse-girl.
Gadget stared at the toy, all her fears forgotten. The rational part of her was sure now that Professor was simply performing some elaborate conjuring trick with her in the role of the magician's assistant. It certainly fit in with dreaming she was on stage and it explained why she hadn't felt any pain when Ratigan had "cut" her. But the cold-blooded, logical part of her wasn't running this show and the words that came out of her mouth came straight from the part of her that was: her heart.
"Widget! My little dolly! Give! Give!"
Ratigan smiled dryly. Gadget blinked rapidly and tried to look at her own mouth to see if it had actually said that.
"Ah ha. I'm sorry, I meant: that's the doll I had when I was a little girl. Can I have it back, please?"
"Widget." Ratigan spun the word out the same way a wine taster makes the most of a mouthful of wine.
"Daddy- I mean, my father, Gewgaw, gave her to me when I was five. I haven't seen her since I was eight."
"Oh? How endearing. But if you're so fond of little "'Widget'", one wonders why you ever parted with her?" Ratigan let the question dangle like the doll.
Gadget said nothing. For three seconds.
"Okay, I didn't exactly part with her."
"No? What then?"
"Well, there was this science fair." Gadget began and stopped.
"The mayor and the newspapers were going to be there and I wanted to win. So my father could be proud of me. I decided that I was going to build a working aeroplane and land it at the science fair. But my teacher said that I should start with something smaller, a scale model. I wanted it to be a working model. With Widget as the pilot."
"I'm starting to get the picture."
Gadget could barely bring herself to look at Ratigan or the doll. "I was just testing it!" She cried plaintively, trying not to hear the childish note in her voice.
"And what happened?"
"Well, I never quite worked out whether it was the insulation between the rocket engine and the fuel tank being too thin, or the poor quality of the metal I used in the combustion chamber, or perhaps a leak in the fuel line, or it could just have been an anomaly-"
"What happened, Gadget?" Ratigan insisted like a stern schoolteacher.
"It blew up." Gadget said quietly. "It took off okay and it flew, for a while, it really did. I was jumping up and down because I was so happy and then it just burst like a balloon."
"And what of poor little Widget?" Ratigan asked with a long face.
"I spent hours looking for her. Eventually I found an arm. I was so horrified that I ran and hid. Daddy found me when it got dark."
"What kind of child would blow up her own doll?" Ratigan
"Don't Say That! That's what He said! I heard him talking to Unca' Monty and it's not fair! I didn't mean to!" Gadget was shocked to hear herself nearing tears.
"I don't think you really deserve to have little Widget back, do you? After all, put yourself in my position. If I gave her back to you and you blew her up again, how would I feel? Hmmm?" Ratigan looked down his nose at her.
Gadget looked back at him, her lower lip trembling. She knew that crying just to get her own way was wrong; she would feel guilty if she did. On the other hand, Ratigan's stern, superior attitude was crumbling. There was a frown on his face and an anxious glint in his eye. Like most males, it looked like he didn't know how to deal with the threat of a beautiful woman's tears. It was a Mexican-stand-off, with emotions instead of guns.
With an effort of will, Gadget forced her lower lip to behave itself. In return, Ratigan dropped Widget into in a kidney dish. Gadget's eyes remained on the doll, its pink button eyes locked with hers. Unheeded, Ratigan returned to his exploratory surgery.
"I missed you." Gadget whispered.
"Ah ha!" Ratigan cried. "Now this is really something!"
Held high in his hands was a tiny cameo painting of Gewgaw Hackwrench: Gadget's father.
Gadget allowed her curiosity to draw her eyes to the cameo. When she saw her father looking back at her from the tiny painting and the doll was forgotten.
"Come on, Gadget. You can tell me what this is, surely?"
"Yes. It's my father." Gadget's tone was so absent minded, she could have understudied for someone who was in a hypnotic trance.
"Really. I just took this out of your chest."
"That's where I keep all my most precious things. In the my big chest."
"Your " Ratigan almost choked, his eyes not watching Gadget's expression for once.
"In my room, at Rescue Ranger Head Quarters. The one that great-grandfather Wrench stole from the Pi-Rats of Greece. It can only be opened by someone who can calculate the square root of Pi to the right number of decimal places in ancient Greek."
"In other words, it can only be opened by someone who's a real smart something-or-other." Ratigan snarled. "Let's see what else I can find."
Ratigan dropped the picture of Gadget's father next to Widget the doll. Gadget's eye contact locked with the painting of her father, not the doll, and maybe that was the way it should have been, if not the way that her father would have wanted it.
"I've found a locket." Ratigan sounded surprised.
"I know." Gadget said.
"Yes, obviously you know. It's your chest I just pulled it out of, after all. It's gold. And it's heart shaped." Ratigan smiled, genuinely for once. "Why Gadget. I believe I'll find a picture of your true love if I open it." Ratigan began to open the locket at once but it refused to open. He frowned intensely. After several minutes fiddling, his temper snapped. "I can't open it!" he snarled.
"That means you don't really want to see what's in it."
"What? Of course I do!" Ratigan berated her.
"To see who you love, of course!"
"Why?" Gadget asked quietly, openly staring at him.
"In case it's-" Ratigan cut himself off before he could finish the sentence and make a complete fool of himself.
"In case it's you?" she asked in a sad, gentle voice like a mother would use with a mistaken child.
Ratigan was mortified. He covered it with fury. "Is that what you think of me? That all I want is your body? You pitiful little fool, that's the last thing I'm interested in."
"It is?" Gadget asked plaintively.
"Yes, but first I have to get you to see the world the way it really is, instead of through those rose tinted welding goggles."
"What do you mean?"
"Every day, every second of your life, your eyes see things that might tarnish this golden little heart of yours, so your mind protects it by pretending they aren't there." Ratigan was in control again. He chuckled to himself before continuing. "Everyone does it but most people haven't the wit to take it to the same lengths as you do. Sooner or later they see something that they can't shut out and if they go on pretending things are the same, the memory calls them a liar every time the look in the mirror."
"That's not true."
"Oh, but it is, Miss Hackwrench. Oh, but it is." Ratigan breathed in a whisper. "Only your brain is so much quicker than everyone else's, it's almost impossible for you to see anything that your brain can't blot out, erase or hide from, one way or another."
"I don't hide from reality."
"Of course not. You're like a conjuror misdirecting his audience- whenever you see something you don't like, you just focus on the parts of reality that you like and understand. Like science or machinery. The parts you can control."
A traitorous part of Gadget's brain suggested that, if Ratigan believed that last point, he had never seen her inventions in action. She was angrier at the thought than Ratigan when she snapped: "Name one thing that I've pretended not to see!"
"The way you make Chip and Dale tear their friendship and each other apart, just to get you to chose one of them."
"That's not true!"
"You pretend not to watch them fight every day."
"I DON'T watch them fight!" Gadget shouted.
"You pretend that they don't fight over you."
"They fight over everything! They argue over what acorns taste like! They argue over-"
"You! They argue over you!"
"YES! They argue over me! Just like everything else! I'm like the biggest acorn on the pile to them, nothing but another excuse for them to fight!"
"And you let them fight!"
Gadget opened her mouth to deny it; when she realised she couldn't, truthfully, she saw red.
"Just a darn minute!" She screamed. "Do you think I like that?!" Gadget sat bolt upright. There was a tearing sound as the restraint straps gave way. "I didn't ask them to fight over me! I never wanted them to hurt each other. And it is NOT MY FAULT!"
Ratigan gaped in amazement. Where had this tiny thing found the strength to break free of those straps? And why had she found it now, instead of when he was threatening her with being cut open?
Gadget grabbed him by the front of his shirt as she jumped clear of the operating table. She was surprisingly strong and her time with the rangers had taught her how to take care of herself in a fight. Before Ratigan had recovered from the surprise, Gadget had used her small frame and knowledge of leverage to send him flying over her shoulder and crashing down on the operating table.
Gadget wasted no time. She gripped the side of the operating table and began running, accelerating it to a bone rattling pace. The table jumped from the end of the stage with a bang all Ratigan could do was hang on for dear life, his eyes popping. Ratigan, table and Gadget, all hit the swing doors to the dressing rooms with a crash.
They tore through the dressing room without slowing. Minnie Mouse shrieked as she tried to cover herself. Babs Bunny hid behind a copy of Vanity Fair as she scrambled out of the surgical table's path. Ratigan didn't have a chance for any sightseeing before Gadget ploughed the table into a rack of costumes in the centre of the room. There was an explosion of sequins, silk and feathers that decorated the room with a dozen exotic costumes. Ratigan emerged from the other side with a pink bonnet on his head and a yellow dress over his Victorian evening suit. He was yowling all the way to the brick wall on the far side of the room.
Gadget stood back and enjoyed her handiwork as the operating table and Ratigan, hat and all, made a perfect silhouette hole in the wall the way people only can in dreams and cartoons. From the other side came the sound of a long, drawn out, falling scream followed by a distinct whiff of brimstone.
Gadget clapped her hands together to rid them of any trace left by Ratigan's shirt. "That's that." She declared. "I'm ready to wake up now."
Ratigan shredded the dress with a scowl. The angry flush on his face was visible even through his course grey fur as he used his claws to shred the yellow dress. Everything around him was either bright red or black. The shapes the black made on the red were not nice. In fact, as Ratigan had thought when he had first seen them, they were as far away from nice as you could get.
Stumbling through the dark, downward sloping tunnel, Ratigan muttered curses to himself. "Evil minded little That's the last time I'll have dealings with her. Who would have thought she had so much strength in her?"
"Things not go according to plan?" An all too familiar voice wheezed in a heavy accent.
Ratigan froze. A large chair with a broad back had been placed in an alcove a little distance from the gateway at the end of the tunnel. That was good. It meant that Ratigan didn't have to worry about going through the gate at the end of the tunnel to talk to the person who was in the chair. Ratigan didn't want to go through the gate. He had a very good reason not to.
A cigar held in a black and gold cigar-holder poked out from behind the back of the chair. It was held by the thumb and "index finger" of a bat's wing.
"Fidget." Ratigan said.
A misshapen head, with huge tattered ears emerged from behind the chair. "What was that you called me?"
Ratigan winced. "Ah ha. I meant ""Boss"", of course." He answered in a honeyed voice.
Fidget stared at him with beady yellow eyes. "I might have worked for you once-upon-a-time but just remember, I've got seniority over you now." The bat rasped. "Thanks to you, if I recall." He added.
"How could I forget?" Ratigan snarled to himself.
Fidget blew a smoke ring into Ratigan's face. Like all bats, Fidget had excellent hearing. Ratigan pretended not to know this, and Fidget pretended not to hear. Somewhere, a tally of every muttered snide comment and caustic retort was being kept. "So, like I said, things didn't go according to plan."
Ratigan nodded gloomily.
Fidget allowed ash to drop from the end of his cigar. "Why didn't things go according to plan?"
Ratigan took a deep breath and fixed a desperate smile in place. "She I You see Well, that is to say; I may have, or rather she has-"
"Kicked your tail all the way back to Dante's gateway?" Fidget suggested helpfully.
"Er, yes." Ratigan admitted.
Fidget laughed. "Ratigan got his tail kicked by a little mouse girl. Aw, ain't that sweet. I got to see this."
Ratigan's face became long and grim. "There's nothing to laugh at. It's over and done with now, and I'm not going back, so there's no way for you to see anything of the kind."
Fidget rummaged down the side of the chair he was sitting in and brought out a flat black object covered in buttons. "Why were all the best things invented after I died?" Fidget complained. He pushed a button and a television of the far side of the alcove flickered into life.
Ratigan's jaw dropped, as the television replayed Gadget's abortive dance routine, his own abysmal magic routine and Gadget's final retribution, all to the accompaniment of Fidget's rising laughter.
"Ho oh! That's rich, that's hysterical. You know what I'm going to do with this Ratigan?"
"I've got a feeling you're going to tell me."
"I'm going to put it up on a great big screen and show it to everybody. I'm even going to send a copy all the way up to the pearly gates and ask if Basil wants to see." Fidget looked at him and grinned. "I'm going to record every laugh, snicker and giggle. And then I'm going to play all their laughter back to you, every moment you aren't doing something profitable for meeeeeeeee." Fidget drew the last word out into a throaty, purr of contentment.
Ratigan didn't hide his anger. "Just because you've got me under you thumb for now, don't think it's going to be that way forever, you insidious little pipsqueak!"
"What was that?" Fidget stood on the seat of the chair and turned to face Ratigan. "Just remember, anytime you want to quit working for me, you can go straight back to the sulphur pits where I found you. You want me to FIRE you?" Fidget's eyes lit up with the word FIRE it had special meaning around this place.
Ratigan blanched. "No, not that. I'm sorry. Anything but that."
The big rat groaned and began massaging his temples. "Well, that depends what you have in mind "
"I want you to go back up there and do what you're supposed to."
"WHAT?" Ratigan eyes flashed red. "But- That's- You-" Finally, he clenched his fists, looked straight up and roared with frustration. "I can't do that! In case you didn't notice, she just banished me! I can't go back. It's against the rules."
"She banished you from her dreams, the waking world's a whole other ball game from the dreamlands. If you don't know that by now, it's high time you learned. Go see her when she's awake."
"You mean in the flesh?"
Fidget chuckled. "Sure, her flesh, that is. If you ask me, you still got the better end of the deal."
"What if she banishes me again?"
"Strike out again and you can start looking for another job to pay for your air conditioning. Unless you like it hot, that is. Real hot."
"How am I going to get her hooked? I tell you, Fidget, she's just not interested. She's in a mental ward, unjustly imprisoned, reviled, hated and feared, cut off from all who could offer comfort and alone with the knowledge that everything she loves is at the mercy of a depraved impostor. I give her a class four nightmare and hit her with the best shot I've got and all it does is make her angry."
Fidget laughed. "Don't try that again."
"I wasn't trying to make her angry, blast you!"
"You weren't? Oh, sorry. She's got quite a temper on her, ain't she?"
"Yes, she has." Slowly, Ratigan's expression brightened. "Yes,
she has, hasn't she?" His frown became a smile. His smile became a grin.
His eyes shone with reflected hellfire. "Yes, yes, yes! That's it! Fidget,
you are still a delightful little maniac!"
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