THE PURPLE PENANCE
by David D. White
Music by - Prokofieff & Tchaikovsky
Additional Music - Traditional Russian Folk Songs
Antique Electronics - American Science & Surplus
Executive Producer - Ponsonby Britt, O.B.E.
Prologue - The Bright Spot
It is said that a blacksmith can walk into a place with nothing but the clothes on his back and a sharp knife, and build a forge, shop and tools with no more than his strength and skill. Gottfried the mouse found a place worthy of his strength and skill in the Rhur valley, a pleasant little clearing with iron ore nearby and a running stream close at hand at the edge of an oak forest. History would call this time the Dark Ages, but Gottfried had every intention of making his little place a bright spot in that age.
He built a smelter of river rock and refined the ore, and cast an anvil, hammer, chisels, files and tongs in the sand. He built a forge of stone and a bellows of wood and a bit of cloth. Enough of a shelter to keep out the elements, and to give him the shadows he needed to tell the temper of the metal by the color it glowed, and he opened for business. Word spread among the animals and business was good his first two years, for a mouse who was also a blacksmith was a resource to be prized.
One afternoon, a farmers cart, laden with mouselings, stopped after a particularly good market day. When it departed, the farmer left a fair amount of silver and his third-born son, and Gottfried had taken his first apprentice.
The lad was wiry, in his late teens and as strong as farm work could make him. His hair and fur were nearly black and his eyes were brown and warm and gentle. He was also over-eager, and Gottfried found him one morning bashing mightily on a billet of iron, raising sparks a-plenty and grinning like a new-made knight. He might have actually made some progress if only he had been using the proper end of the hammer, the flat part instead of the pointed chipping end. He had hammered with such force he had nearly battered the hammer tip as much out of shape as the iron. Gottfried bellowed and raged and returned the billet to the forge, then set his apprentice to work repairing the hammer. From then on, he called his apprentice Hacken, one who chops crudely.
The week had not passed before a caravan of wagons came through. The Easterners bartered and traded hard, but their brass trinkets and Chinese cloth were of little interest to a smith. At last, they opened the back of a wagon, and barked an order, and offered a pearl of great price. The mousette stepped down from the wagon, a girl-child barely halfway through her teens, blinking in the sunlight. Her fur was two-toned tan and white, her hair was gold as spring sunshine, and her eyes were a startling blue. Gottfried knew her story before the caravan chief could begin his meaningless pitch. Somewhere, a destitute family had sold their daughter and prayed that, against hope, she would find a better life than the one they could have given her. He watched her closely, correctly shy, not too nervous, knowing not to speak at such a time. But when she saw the forge, and the tools there, her eyes sparkled. Gottfried stepped up to her. She didnt try to entice him or fawn over him. She crooked her arm up and showed her muscle. Playfully, he squeezed it, and was surprised to find it hard as stone. She was strong, and he knew she would grow stronger still. Gottfried had lost his wife many years ago, and he hesitated. The girl tried to meet his gaze without fear, and wasnt succeeding. But her eyes strayed again to the forge, the tools, and Gottfried sighed. When a woman took such an interest in a mans work, what was a man to do?
Some fine ironwork and a bit of the farmers silver left with the caravan. And Gottfried had taken his last apprentice.
As night closed in, the girl stood in the smithy, wringing her hands in anticipation and distress. Gottfried could understand but a few words of her Northland tongue, and she understood him not at all. At last he managed to make clear that she would sleep on that side of the forge, and he and Hacken would sleep on this side. She burst into tears, and kissed his rough hands, and called him reverently by a name he couldnt understand. And he said Ja, Ja. and bid her good night. And so it was.
In the months to come, Gottfried taught them both the ways of fire and iron. On days when the anvil was quiet, the girl took a knife and hatchet and worked in the clearing between the woods and the back of the smithy. What Gottfried had thought would be a simple lean-to was fast becoming a complete thatch hut. She worked with skill, as if she could see the finished work in her mind before she began.
One afternoon, Gottfried tried to teach her to twist iron for decoration, the sort of thing that merchants and nobles paid well for. But despite her strength, the twisting handle run through the red hot iron was too much for her. In frustration, she heated the square rod again and jammed it in the anvils hardy hole. She caught the twisting handle with a long wooden staff and raced around the anvil, the leverage making the job easy, and she turned out a perfect, tightly twisted shaft. Gottfried laughed at such ingenuity, and thereafter called her Wrenc, a word with two meanings. It meant to twist, but it also meant to play a trick.
Time passed, and one day Wrenc was spinning wool at the spinning wheel she had made for herself, watching Hacken work himself to exhaustion on the bellows, trying to keep the iron hot enough to work. She saw how hard his task was, and yet how easy was hers.
In a few days, she had built a spinning bellows out of wood and an iron axle. It kept the forge golden-hot with a fraction of the effort. And when Gottfried applied it to the smelter, it forced the last impurities out of the iron and forced carbon in, making steel and anticipating Bessemer by a millennium. And they prospered.
Late one night, Gottfried heard strange sounds that snapped him awake. Lighting a candle in the forge coals, he rushed to find the source. He came upon Wrenc and Hacken, both in the same blanket, looking ashamed and frightened. Well, nothing for it now, Gottfried thought.
The next morning found them in the tiny parish church, the two young mice exchanging rings of iron still warm from the forge, Gottfried standing close behind them to coach the proper Latin responses to the service. He made clear that tomorrow would be a work day, but today was for the two of them, made one.
Many years passed. Children were born and grew. Hacken took up more of the work, as Gottfried grew gray with age. Wrenc still made little improvements in their lives and built things that eased their burdens. After many years, old Gottfried finally passed away, and his children, for such they had become, took possession of the smithy. They decided to honor their teacher, provider and father by joining the names he had given them, and as the family Hackenwrenc they were ever after known.
FAST FORWARD CIRCA 1000 YEARS:
Gadget Hackwrench, the latest inheritor of that odd last name, sat in her workshop and hummed happily as she polished a set of watch gears, unsuspecting of the peril that approached in the guise of a harmless hobby kit.
* * *
One - A Sucker Loses His Wager
Easy does it, Dale! Chip hollered. We dont want to break anything!
That particular warning coming from the front door was guaranteed to cause alarm throughout Ranger Headquarters. Monterey Jack and Zipper hustled in from the exercise room. Foxglove hurried out of the kitchen. And Gadget sped down the spiral slide from her workshop. They narrowly avoided a six-way collision with their chipmunk colleagues as they converged.
YOW! Chip cried. Be careful, all of you! This is very delicate!
Chip and Dale carefully set down a cardboard box One end flap was torn loose and it bore a label of antiquated design faded with age. Nonetheless, Gadget recognized it instantly.
A Heathkit! she declared. She got closer to read the fine print. Everything you need to build a working shortwave radio. Where did you get this relic?
One of the old pack rats at Small Frys Electronics gave it to us, Dale said. We thought wed try puttin it together.
Looks pretty complicated, Foxglove commented as she peered into the box through the missing flap. This would keep you busy for days.
Besides, Monty said, Gadget-luv could put together a shortwave radio in no time if we needed one.
Its the challenge of building it that matters, Chip asserted. Glass radio is the big thing now. Its wires and solder and eight vacuum tubes. He glanced slyly at Gadget. This is difficult, heavy, exacting work.
Gadget wasnt about to let that slip by. Are you implying I cant build a good radio?
Gad-get, Chip said with cloying condescension, this is from the days of radiomen. There arent any transistors or printed circuits. Building a vacuum tube radio is mans work. Its too much for a girl.
Are you kidding! Gadget howled. I could build a shortwave radio out of a Caesar salad if I had to!
Really? Chip said disdainfully. Would care to make a wager on that?
You wanna bet? Gadget said indignantly. Ill bet you anything you dare to bet!
Would you bet... Chip seemed to mull it over. The Purple Penance?
Gadgets eyes widened in brief shock at the suggestion, then narrowed in fierce resolution.
Yes, she stated firmly.
For the weekend? Chip challenged.
Youre on! Gadget said, determined not to to be bluffed.
For both of us? Chip emphasized.
Uhhh, Chip, Dale hissed urgently with a sidewards glance at Foxglove.
Youre still on! Gadget snapped. I can build anything that uses electricity, from Ben Franklins kite to a Cray supercomputer, and ten times better that you!
Okay, Chip agreed, its a bet. Monty, would you referee?
How longs this supposed to take? Monty asked.
The package says the radio can be built by anyone with common skill in one day, Chip said. Ill say two days, just to make it fair.
Oooooo, you...! Gadget seethed.
Right, then, Monty barked, heading off an explosion. Heres the rules. Gadget has to let Chip and Dale use her tools when shes not using them. Radios to be tried on Friday night at seven oclock. The one to get the best reception of any shortwave program from Australia is the winner.
Lets go, Dale! Chip said.
They shouldered the box and hurried to their room. Gadget, close behind, headed for the stairs to her workshop. Monty sauntered back to the exercise room and his regimen, leaving Zipper with a somewhat concerned Foxglove.
I dont know for sure whats going on, Foxy confided. But I have the awful feeling that Gadgets in for more than she bargained for.
Gadget entered her workshop with supreme confidence. Among her fathers friends when she was growing up were some of the best radiomice in the world, and what she hadnt learned about electronics from them wasnt worth knowing. She made a quick inventory of her supplies. She had a small cigar box that would serve as a chassis, rheostats, transformers and wire aplenty. She was well stocked with parts for any need the Rangers might develop. And her sources could quickly provide anything she didnt have on hand. She picked up the phone and dialed one of her best suppliers.
Small Frys Electronics, the friendly voice answered. This is Packy, how may I help you?
Hi, Packy. Its Gadget.
Hi! he said brightly. Hows the Sub-Static Circuitry Caramelizer coming along?
Im making progress, she said. But I need some parts for another project. I need a G56 dual diode, a 6G87A triode...
Hold it! Are you looking for vacuum tubes?
Well, yes. I know there arent many in stock, but...
Gadget, there isnt one in the whole place. Theres been a big revival among the humans of old vacuum tube amplifiers. There wont be any in the store for at least a week.
A week! I have to finish this by Friday night!
Theres not a prayer well have any by then. I told Chip and Dale when they picked up that radio kit if they broke any tubes, it would be a while before we got replacements. I thought they would have mentioned it.
No, she said with soft disappointment. They didnt mention it at all.
You might try Lil Quements in San Jose, Packy said sympathetically. Theyve got stuff even Ive never heard of.
Okay. Thanks, Packy. Gadget said softly.
Good luck, Packy said, and hung up.
I dont believe in luck, she said to the dead line. But I believed that my friends would play fair.
Gadget replaced the receiver with a growing feeling of dread. When Small Frys didnt have something electronic, it was a bad omen.
She did try Lil Quements, and a half dozen other suppliers. Even a call to a major warehouse on the east coast gave her no hope. It would have taken three days to get the parts to her if they had them, and they didnt.
She weighed her options, and they added up to zero. Ranger tradition held strongly where wagers, gambles and dares were concerned. If you bet foolishly, you were still on the hook for the stakes. She couldnt complain to Monty or Zipper. Crabbing to the referee was as good as trying to back out of the bet. And if she told Foxglove, Foxy would take Dales side, as she should. Even if she didnt, and tried to make Dale give up, it would be the same as trying to get Monty to intervene. It left her feeling very foolish and very much alone, without even a shoulder to cry on.
She looked again at the phone. There were a couple of shoulders she could borrow to cry on. Very big, strong shoulders.
Two Scruffy Guys! Gordons voice sang from the receiver. Dos Gringos Scruffy aqui!
Hi, Gordon, Gadget said.
Hiya, Gadget! Gordon responded cordially. I hope this is pleasure, not business.
Well, its not business, Gadget replied. Is Gary there?
Im on the line now, Gary said. Is anything wrong?
She hesitated now that she had them on the line. Her inhibition about the bet taking hold.
I just wanted to let you know I wont be available for any assignments. I made a foolish bet and Im going to be tied up this weekend.
You lost a bet to be tied up over the weekend? Gordon said slyly. Does this involve traditional leather, fashionable latex, or yards of clean white string?
Its nothing of the sort! Ummm, Well... she waffled as she reconsidered the nature of her wager. I hope its nothing of that sort. And I havent lost the bet yet. But its as good as lost.
Somethings wrong. Whats going on? Gary queried.
Chip and Dale found an old Heathkit shortwave radio kit at the electronics shop and brought it home to assemble. They bet me I couldnt build a vacuum tube radio as good as theirs from scratch.
Sounds like youd have em in the bag. Gary said.
Thats what I thought. But theres a big revival in tube radios going on, and Ill never get the tubes I need in time.
Well, dont worry, Gordon assured. We can lend you some acorns if youre short.
Its not that sort of a bet. Its personal and... well, Id rather not say.
I dont like the sound of this, Gary said with alarm.
Its getting more interesting all the time, Gordon said. Its one of those dark, secret Ranger wagers I keep hearing about, isnt it?
Stop talking like a tabloid! Gadget complained. I just bet em The Purple Penance.
Gadget, what the heck have you gotten yourself into? Gary said seriously What exactly is this bet?
Dont be so suspicious, she chided. I can handle it even if I do have to take care of Chip and Dale at the same time!
I really dont like this! Gary snapped. I dont know what those two wisenheimers have pulled, but you dont have to go through with any disgusting performance because you made some bet!
The guys wouldnt do anything mean! Gadget said urgently. Its just takes a long time and its sort of exhausting and I might get a bit sore in spots!
Thats it! Gary roared. Gordon, fire up the chopper...!
No, no, no! Gadget cried, aghast. You cant blow your cover coming here! What are you thinking!?
Gadget, youd better come clean and tell us what this is about, Gordon chuckled. Whatever it is, it cannot be as bad as what our imaginations are concocting from a name like The Purple Penance!
Oh, all right, she relented, clearly puzzled what the fuss was about. We have a couple of Japanese kimonos. They were a gift after a rescue we made in Japan. Theyre a beautiful deep purple. Anyway, we have a traditional bet we call the Purple Penance, and if you lose this bet, you have to wear the kimono and play geisha boy, or girl, for the winner.
Dale can keep me hopping. Get his soda, his comic book, change the channel. He doesnt really try to wear me out, but he doesnt give me much rest. Of course, once he gets engrossed in a comic book or T.V. show, things calm down. Now, Chip, he likes to play it completely Japanese. A tea ceremony, a full traditional dinner...
A Japanese bath? Gordon asked.
NO, she said coldly. Not a bath. Theyre my friends, like you two. You wouldnt ask me to give you a bath, would you?
In perfect unison, they replied, Who knows? Were stinkers!
Youre both goofs, she said warmly. But thanks for offering to help. This time Ill just have to take my medicine for being wrong.
Perhaps you should have seen it coming, Gary said gently. It was too easy.
Its worse than that, Gadget said. I may have to quit making bets with them at all.
Thats kind of extreme, Gordon said with concern. Crazy wagers and bets are a Ranger tradition.
Chip goaded me into it so easily, Gadget said sadly. Im willing to take a risk and pay the price when I lose. But Im not going to be played for a sucker in my own home.
Gadget, dont take it so hard, Gary said. Youve lived there with the Rangers for how many years? Theyre bound to know your weaknesses. And you had no way of knowing there were no vacuum tubes to be had. Its just bad luck.
I guess youre right. I should have known there was something fishy. Chip would never have made a bet that easy for me to win if he didnt have an angle.
Angle? Gordon puzzled. What was his angle?
When he and Dale picked up the radio kit, the clerk told them to be careful, because there were no spare tubes to replace any they broke.
Wait a minute, Gary said sharply. They knew in advance you wouldnt have a chance to win the bet?
It seems that way.
They set you up?
Gadget was taken aback by the anger in his voice. I... I suppose you could say that.
Gadget, I want... Gordo, why is there never a notepad in the communications room?
Becaaaaause, my partner walks off with them when hes thinking.
Gadget, stay on the line. Let me get a notepad.
Gordon paused a moment, then whispered into his phone. Gadget, you should have seen the way Garys whiskers were twitching! Hes hoppin mad and this is gonna get good!
Golly! Hes not going to do something crazy, is he?
You mean like... fly over to Ranger Headquarters, bash down the front door and play hacky-sack with Chip and Dales heinies?
Omigosh! Gadget squeaked in horror. Gordon youve gotta stop him!
I dont think thats what he has in mind, he assured. Ill bet he has a far more subtle and insidious doom in store for your chipmunk pals. Shhhh, here he comes.
Okay, Gary said. I want a list of everything you need, or at least what youre cut off from. You may be a Rescue Ranger, Gadget, but youre a Scruffy Guy, too. And no one, but no one, sets up a Scruffy and walks out on their own hind legs.
Okay, she said dejectedly. But I dont think theres much you can do. I need a G56 dual diode, a 6G87A triode...
Gary finished writing the last of the part numbers. He considered how often they had gone on desperate assignments with no more than a slip of paper and a few words and digits for clues.
Now, Gadget, dont worry, Gary said soothingly. Just start on the chassis and speakers and whatever else is going into this radio. Leave the tube thing to us, Okay? Bye.
Gary glanced around the monitors in the communications room as he finished the list and tore the page off the note pad. The screens showed no indication of pending trouble within their area of responsibility. They would have a couple of days before anything had a chance to brew up.
Gary, Ive read about this glass radio fad, Gordon said. Humans are even buying old television sets just to scrounge the tubes out of em. I dont think Gadget would have missed any likely supply of tubes.
Im thinking sources, not suppliers. Chucky wanted us to do some liaison work this month. And theres still one place on earth where they make new vacuum tubes.
And no one can accuse us of using government property for personal reasons. Very sneaky, Mr. Squirrel.
Sneaky was in the job description, Mr. Rodent.
Ill go gather our trade goods.
Ill go preflight The Bullet.
* * *
Two - A Fool Loses His Heart
The Two Scruffy Guys supersonic transport rocketed from its catapult launcher and crossed the coast minutes later. In tense times, the presence of a triple-sonic jet making an unannounced flight would have sounded air defense alarms from Oregon to Maine. But when the aircraft in question was only sixteen feet long and stealthy even by rodent standards, the only one likely to hear a Coast to Coast alert was late night talk radio.
Gary kept a sharp eye out the windshield as they climbed to cruise altitude. Once above the normal airline flight paths, the trip would be a simple matter of keeping course and monitoring the aircraft systems. Until then, flying a nearly invisible aircraft made avoiding other air traffic the top priority. Gordon strolled into the cockpit from the cargo deck and clambered into the co-pilots seat.
Its kinda weird to see the plane so empty, Gordon remarked. Our gear bags and the goodies, and thats it.
This is going to be there and back again if were going to do Gadget any good. Weve got to make contact, make our deal, and get home.
Speaking of doing Gadget any good, Gordon asked. Youve been a complete clam since Saturday. How did it go?
Howd what go?
The date, Gordon said. With Gadget? The one she promised you on Bikini? You took her out, remember?
Oh. It went okay, Gary shrugged. Just fine.
Details, man, details, Gordon prompted. Did you go calling with hat in hand?
I couldnt very well knock at the front door. Shed have too much explaining to do. She met me down at their garage entrance.
You know perfectly well I wore a business suit.
Her! Did she wear a jumpsuit. I know how informal she can be.
No,Gary said, getting a faraway look. She wore a pretty dark blue dress, high heels, a pearl necklace.
Dark blue and pearls, hmmm, Gordon muttered, as if it had special significance. Very nice.
She did wear her goggles, though, Gary admitted.
Oh, she just uses those for a hairband, Gordon said dismissively. I hope you took her some place worthwhile.
I took her to Chandeliers.
Oooo, Chandeliers! Very nice. Very ritzy. Not very intimate, though. I mean, you sit IN the chandeliers there. Everythings lit like daylight.
Whadaya mean intimate? It was just a dinner date.
Oh, never mind. Did you do any dancing?
You cant dance at Chandeliers. It makes the whole place jiggle and the humans in the restaurant below think an earthquakes starting.
Okay, okay. So you had a nice dinner. What else?
That was it. After dinner I took her home.
You took her home aaaaand, you gave her a good night kiss?
Ummm, well, sure I did. Gary said uncomfortably.
Gordon eyes narrowed as he read his partners fidgeting body language. He jabbed his finger at Gary like a detective springing the trap.
You kissed her hand, didnt you?! Gordon accused.
I wanted to be gentlemanly. Gary said helplessly.
You idiot! Gordon shouted. You turbocharged nincompoop! You go on a date with one of the most beautiful and appealing and, yes, sexy rodents on this planet and you kissed her hand?!
It was just dinner. Gary complained.
Its a date! You take her for a nice, relaxing evening, you bring her home and you kiss the girl! Its even a song cue, for Heavens sake!
I did kiss her.
On the lips! Gordon raged. Take the nervous, trembling girl in your steady, powerful arms and bloody kiss her!
You make it sound like a mugging! We were right under her front door! I wasnt going to pounce on her in the dark and try to get a lip lock on her!
Youre supposed to pounce a little bit! Girls expect it! Thats the whole point of the date, you idiot! Gordon turned to the windshield and shouted to the vacant Pacific, eighteen miles below. DO YOU HEAR, WORLD? MY PARTNER IS A COMPLETE, TOTAL, UNROMANTIC IDIOT!!!
I am not unromantic. Gary gently insisted.
What were you thinking? Gordon railed. When you take out a beautiful girl you kiss her and you kiss her ON THE LIPS! Thats what theyre there for! You lay a nice big kiss on em and they smile at you afterwards!
Gary turned his attention back to the blue-black sky. Gordon could see he had decided to close the subject.
Awright, thats it! Gordon snarled. Now its my turn.
We only rolled the dice to see whod take her out first! Gordon stated. Its my turn now! Ill take her to Hernandos, where its more intimate than a honeymoon suite and so dark you have to find your dinner by scent! And on Friday night, they play the Tango. And waitll I get her alone for that good night kiss!! Ill show that girl some kissing! Ill suck face till she thinks shes plugged into a San Francisco fireboat!
Gary gave his partner a sour glance. Are you implying I did something wrong?
Wrong! What did you do right? You took her to a stuffy, pretentious restaurant, you didnt take her any place where she could have some fun, and you didnt even give her a proper good night kiss!
Okay, Gary said decisively. If I screwed it up, it doesnt count.
What! Gordon shouted.
Ill ask her for another date and take her out again. Ill see if I cant manage something more satisfactory. Or are you afraid you wont measure up to my best effort?
Okay! Youre on! Gordon snapped. I wouldnt feel right if I carted off such a wonderful girl without giving you a fair chance to be beaten into a squirrel soufflé! But if youre gonna take her out again, Im gonna give you a checklist! Gordon swatted the scroll checklist attached to the instrument panel. You can wear it on your wrist, and ILL make out the list! Step 23 - Kiss The Girl: ON - THE - LIPS!!
Whatever! Gary barked. Ill take her out, Ill take her home, and Ill kiss her by the numbers! Happy!?
Its a start, Gordon allowed. You want some coffee?
Like all their arguments, it was over and behind them that quickly. They depended on each other for their lives, and even the pursuit of a beautiful female wasnt enough to damage that partnership.
* * *
Gary landed the Bullet at a small animal maintained airfield in Vladivostok, and the pair made their way into the city. Slipping into Soviet territory had once been an enterprise filled with special hazards, even for animals. Viewed with suspicion if not downright distrust, even animal foreigners once had difficulties with the simplest transactions. With the changes that overtook the continent in recent times, the Two Scruffy Guys were viewed as no more than out-of-towners. Even by their counterparts in the intelligence field.
Sergei was no more the Siberian chipmunks real name than the monikers the Scruffies used. Gary and Gordon had never quite learned what his position was in his nations security apparatus. All they knew for sure was he ran a brisk international trade store when he wasnt making sure the human race didnt jeopardize the security of his country.
At the moment, the jeopardy Gary observed was to their deal. Gordon was doing the bargaining, but a much more open trade market was making it difficult to tempt Sergi with their usual negotiable goods.
Cant you do better than this? Sergei urged.
What do you want? Rubles? Gordon countered.
Rubles Ive got. I papered my roof with the old issue of rubles. Good roofing materiel. Poor foreign exchange rate.
Plumbing fixtures? Gordon ventured. Youre always telling me you can use plumbing.
Look here, Sergei said, waving his hand at a huge box outside his window. 223 dollhouse toilets from Hong Kong. Gold plated, no less. Plumbing I dont need.
Awright. How about this? Gordon produced a tiny blue-white object. A miniature teapot, not a dollhouse decoration. Real porcelain. Look at the hallmark.
Ooooh! St. Petersburg! From the czars time, Ill bet.
We think its from the time of Nicholas the First, Gary added. What do you say, Sergei?
You two are spies! Sergei growled irritably You know I need a new teapot for my samovar. Okay, done! Ill make some calls and have your radio tubes tomorrow.
He stepped across the office and plucked the teapot from the top of the samovar. It was cracked, just above the handle, but he was clearly reluctant to give it up. He poured three glasses of tea for them, refilled the pot from the boiler, and rejoined his guests.
Were going to have a get-together this evening, Sergei said, carefully emphasizing his meaning. Some of the old rodents from our government service. You should come.
They wont say a thing around us, Gordon smiled. Were guaranteed party poopers, regardless of party.
Pah! Sergei huffed. We have common interests these days. No one will ask embarrassing questions, no one will say anything they shouldnt. Well toast the great names and forget the troubled past. Well reminisce about old times and lament the good old days. A very Russian revel.
Sergei, Gary said, were flying tomorrow. We shouldnt...
I know your flying regulations, Sergei scolded. You arent airline pilots. Youre allowed two drinks if theyre more than ten hours before flight. Get a bit sloshed for old times sake.
Okay, Gary said. Well party hearty for once.
Sergei sipped at the strong dark tea and slyly regarded the Two Scruffy Guys. This is an unusual bit of trade youve come for this time. No one in the West has used vacuum tubes for thirty years. What are you doing with old radio parts, anyway?
Youre still an information engineer, arent you? Gordon grinned. Theyre for our new partner.
Ahhh, the third Scruffy Guy! Ive heard rumors that its your old chum G.G. But building radios is not her style. Whats really going on?
Were not supposed to talk about this, Sergei, Gordon said. You know that better than I do.
We are establishing a great foundation of trust here, yes? Im not asking where you hid the Fleeblebroxian space cruiser that crashed last year. I just like to know who Im dealing with.
Gary shrugged in acquiescence. Its not G.G. Have you ever heard of Gadget Hackwrench?
The Rescue Ranger? Ohh ho! Shes a real hottie, too. Ive seen pictures.
Shes very intelligent and talented, Gordon said, annoyed. Shes a genius.
Ive heard all that, Sergei said. But is she any good...?
Sergei! they both roared.
HA! I knew it! No guts! You couldnt even pretend you were swinging a hammock with her!
We have a completely professional relationship! Gary grated.
Ohhh-ho, youre touchy. You must really have the hots for her.
You know, Gary said angrily, it isnt too late to start World War Three!
Yes it is, Sergei said, suddenly serious. It started in New York.
Gary sagged at that reminder. He and Gordon had overflown Ground Zero not long after 9/11. They knew the Rescue Aid Society and the Rescue Rangers had worked endless hours throughout that steel nightmare. They knew how many animals made their homes in the World Trade Center. They knew how many never got out.
Ahhh, Sergei huffed. maybe the war started in Grozny. Or Jerusalem. Maybe it was when Abraham cast out Hagar and Ishmael. It would be just our luck. Here we are after four thousand years still dealing with someone elses family fight.
If you want to fight, Sergei said helpfully, theres still a chance at World War Four. Einstein said if it ever happened, it would be fought with sticks and stones. Humph. Fat lot Einstein knew about war. If that war comes upon us, it will be fought with toxic molecules, ravenous viruses, and tiny radiant atoms. And if it is fought, my friends, the animals wont be any better off than the humans. Its what we have to work together to prevent. Have you forgotten?
Sorry, Sergei. Gary said, thoroughly chagrined.
Me too. Sergei said with equal sincerity.
Sergei gathered up their tea glasses. Well be at Obratsovs restaurant this evening. They make a fine dinner. Eat, then ask for me, and theyll let you in the back room.
* * *
The dinner was excellent, the party in the back room was subdued at first. Conversations and vodka began to flow and it swiftly became a lively event.
Toasts to famous names were a long standing custom at service parties. Each toast required another drink. When the better known names ran out, some of the more obscure notables would suffice.
Heres to Vladimir Pushtak, someone bellowed. Inventor of the electric firewood defroster!
He sounds like someone Gadget would like to meet. Gordon quipped.
With each toast, Sergei and his old associates would drain their glasses. Gary and Gordon would reply with careful sips, trying to make their limited ration of vodka last through the evening.
Heres to Nickoli Palanov, inventor of the rodent noseprint classification system!
Whoa! Gordon corrected. That was the English guy that lived on Baker street.
Phooey! Sergei scoffed. The Russians invented everything! - Eventually.
PAH! shouted a figure seated in the shadowed back of the room. It is bad! Very bad!!
The place became still, the conversations muted. The Two Scruffy Guys had barely noticed the old mouse who sat with his back to the wall and now had the attention of everyone in the room. He was more than old, he was ancient. His tired gray suit bore medals that dated to the Great Patriotic War. His clear gray eyes were anything but tired. They seemed to see the most distant horizons, past and future. He beckoned to the two foreigners, and the pair approached, realizing only then that he had been watching them closely throughout the evening.
Bad enough, the old veteran growled, when animals help humans to do something good. There are secrets that should be kept from the closest of friends. His hands wrung over each other as if in pain. But when animals help humans to do something evil... Very baaaaad.
The old fellow caught Sergis eye and nodded sharply. Gary and Gordon felt their security clearances rise considerably.
There have been incidents, Sergi said. Old KGB and GRU files have been rifled, but there were no documents missing. Its most likely they were photographed. The thing is, no one has had access to the file rooms in many months. We suspect that animals did it.
If I may ask, Gordon said carefully, what sort of files?
Technical papers, Sergi answered. Having to do with political persuasion. What in the West you called brainwashing.
Gary and Gordon glanced at each other. Fair was fair.
We had a couple of instances like that, too, Gary said. The classified files at the National Archives were disturbed, but no human had been in the vault for a year and a half. They were old records of experiments the CIA did in the Sixties using hallucinogenic drugs. Mind control, they called it. We suspect a team of rodents just from the modus operandi.
Very bad, the old mouse hissed. We hear whispers. Something very big and very bad. They will aim first at you. He jabbed his finger at Gary and Gordon. But only first. We will fall one by one. If America does not stand, no one will.
He looked around the room suspiciously. Why are you all looking so grim! he shouted. This is supposed to be a party!
The mood shifted instantly. The conversations picked up. The glasses clinked in new toasts. Music began to play.
Gordon marveled at the change. Darn good camouflage, isnt it?
The gathering became a riotous bash, with the foreboding future set aside. When singing began, Gary and Gordon joined in, faking the tunes in English as best they could until far past midnight.
* * *
Gary fretted outside Sergis shop the next morning, while Gordon relaxed calmly. At last, the chipmunk drove up in a wonderfully contrived delivery truck. The frame was a pair of wing ribs from a forgotten class of aircraft. The body a series of flattened tin cans. No two wheels were alike, or even the same diameter. It was powered by a one-cylinder engine that looked like it could digest anything from salad oil to coal dust.
Ive got all your vacuum tubes, Sergi called. Hop in and Ill take you to the airport.
I think well just make it, Gary said as he clambered aboard. I thought you were going to be late.
Ah, if were late, its like the World Cup. Wait for next year. Besides, look at you! Big fat superpower Americans, but you have to fly across the ocean to trade with me for parts!
Thanks for everything, Gary said warmly. And for the radio parts, too. If theres anything you need, forget making a trade. Just ask.
Its better to think about what you have than what you dont have, Sergi said. Dont worry about needs. Think about potential. Well do our best with what we have and the rest well invent.
Look at me, he said jauntily. I have nothing except potential. Lenin once said we wouldnt need money and would use gold for toilets. And see? He waved towards his shop. Lenins statues are in the scrapyard, but my roof is covered with rubles and I have toilets made of gold! Who knows what will happen next?
* * *
Three - A Chump Loses Both
Gadget sat in her bedroom as evening closed in. She had gone as far as she could with the radio. Her chassis was well fashioned. Her sockets were finely hand crafted. Her wiring was flawless. She had even managed to forage a small Bose speaker for top quality sound. Yet it was no more than a bunch of dead-end circuits without the vacuum tubes. Her last ditch efforts to obtain even a couple went for nothing.
Then she heard it. Not Chip and Dale arguing or wailing at yet another electrical malfeasance. It was a soft tapping at her window that she had learned to recognize instantly.
She rushed to the window and yanked it open. Startled, it took her a few moments to realize the odd vision before her was Gary hanging upside down on a rappelling line.
Special delivery for Gadget Hackwrench, Gary smiled as he got himself upright. Where do ya want it, lady?
Gadget leaned out the window and looked up. The Two Scruffy Guys twin rotor helicopter was perched precariously in the highest branches of the tree. Gordon leaned out of the choppers door and waved to her before she stepped back from the window.
Gary passed a cardboard box nearly as tall as she was in through the window to her. Gadget guessed the contents from its weight and size even though she couldnt read the Cyrillic printing. She pulled the end flap and withdrew a handsome glass cylinder, its interior occupied by a strange metal structure.
Oh my gosh! she cried. She pivoted and planted the tube in the chassis. With one hard push, it slipped into its proper place. She turned toward the window as Gary slid another parcel through.
Golly! she said as she dragged another tube from its box. Did you get all of them?
Everything on the list, Gary assured. Another box slid down the line to his waiting hands.
Gadget placed the second tube in its socket. A wiggle, a shove, and slid into the spot like it was right at home.
This is perfect! Gadget squeaked in delight. Oh, I love you guys!
She leaned far out the window and threw her arms around Garys neck. She aimed a smooch for his cheek, but he turned his head and it landed square on his lips. Gadget pushed back with a gasp, about to try to explain it away.
Hey! Gordon stage-whispered from high above. Dont I get a kiss?
Given the distance separating them, Gadget couldnt see how. Well... sure, but...
Then give it to Gary. Ill collect later.
The ridiculous impossibility of the suggestion was lost on her. She pulled Garys face to hers and kissed him, somewhat off center and somewhat too forcefully, but what she lacked in skill she made up for in honest feeling. When she eased back from him, he had a just-got-hit-with-a-brick expression that made her giggle.
Look, Gary said, seizing the moment, I think I overdid it when I took you out before. How about we take in a movie and a plain old everyday dinner?
Oh, sure! Gadget said at once. How about a week from Friday? Im not doing anything then.
Okay! Friday after next it is. OW! Gordon had let the next tube slide down the line, klonking the inattentive Gary on the head.
Get to work! Gordon hissed. Were running out of time!
* * *
Chip and Dale fussed over the Heathkit in the front room, trying to coax an intelligible signal from the device. Their wiring was a jumble of multicolor wire and globs of solder that brought to mind a robotic pasta salad. But it was working, even if the pair was just learning the vagaries of shortwave tuning.
Wait! Chip cried. The small speaker hissed and gargled with static, but a voice could be made out - barely.
Yeah, Monty said, angling his ear toward the speaker. Thats the land down under. Someone singing. I think.
Ill kick it up, Dale declared. He twisted a Bakelite knob and only received more assertive static for his trouble. Foxglove, sitting nearby, winced at the sound.
It aint much, Monty said. But if Gadget doesnt get finished by the deadline...
Here I am! Gadget called. She slid down the spiral slide with the radio clutched precariously over her head. She set the radio down next to Chip and Dales effort, switched on the power and began to slowly adjust the fine tuning.
... QUESTIONED ON HIS POLICIES IN CANBERRA, Gadgets radio boomed, THE PRIME MINISTER SAID ETOAIN SHRDLU...
Chip and Dale seemed to be physically blasted back by the volume. Foxglove quickly pulled her wings over her ears. Monty and Zipper grinned at the familiar Australian accent. The announcer was so clear he might have been standing outside the Headquarters.
Shrdlu? Dale puzzled.
Sorry, Gadget said, lowering the volume, The signal was a bit stronger upstairs. Ill have to retune it a bit.
In other news, the radio voice continued, three days of fighting ended suddenly in Alice Springs. Authorities assured disappointed crowds that the fighting would resume as soon as more beer was delivered...
AH-HAHAHAHAHA! Monty laughed. Thats the old sod, all righty! He turned to the crestfallen chipmunks. Id say you two have been soundly beaten. Any objection?
Monty held out the purple kimonos, and Chip and Dale silently accepted them, admitting defeat. As Dale slipped on his kimono, Foxglove left her chair and walked over to him.
I found out how you tried to cheat Gadget, Foxglove whispered ominously. You and I are going to talk.
With that, she spun about and marched toward the stairs, her body language making clear Dale would not be welcome in her attic apartment this weekend. Dale glared viciously at Chip, who could only wilt in response.
Gadget left the shortwave to Monty and Zipper and hurried to park herself in front of the television.
Dale, she commanded, Ill have a soda. And my Air & Space magazine. AND some popcorn. AND put on the NASA Channel. And Chip... she grinned viciously. Fix me a chirashi bowl. On the double!
The chipmunks sped off to their initial tasks as Gadget began planning their weekend chores. But in the back of her mind was another thought. She had managed to win the bet, but there was still a payback to be made.
* * *
On Monday evening, Gadget took the RangerWing for a check flight following some minor repairs. The check on the stability and safety of her work took only a few minutes, but there was an additional mission she hadnt mentioned to her friends that would take much of the evening. She guided her craft to the Scruffies secret hideout in the Tehachapi Mountains and landed in the concealed hanger, bringing with her a small parcel and a simple but effective plan.
Here you are, Gadget said softly as she carried a large tray from the kitchen. Your geisha has a proper Japanese dinner for the bold aviators.
She set the tray next to the couch, where she had insisted the Two Scruffy Guys await her. Gadget, in the deep purple kimono and tabi socks, was an elegant eyeful as she prepared to serve them. Lacking appropriate kimonos, the fellows were wearing pajamas and bathrobes.
I have this for you, Gordo-san, she said, placing a bowl in front of him.
Chirashi! he declared in surprise. Its my all-time favorite. Howd you know?
I am fortunate to have judged your appetites accurately, Gadget said with a slight bow. She turned and placed a dish in front of Gary. For you, Gary-san.
Gadget, you dont have to do this, Gary protested.
Yes I do, Gadget replied, dropping her geisha routine. Id have been doing this for the whole weekend if not for you two. This is the least I can do to repay you.
You dont have to be so... submissive, Gary murmured, clearly uncomfortable.
Dont be ungrateful, Gordon chided as he savored his meal. Let her show her appreciation any way she wants.
Hai! Gadget said, resuming her act. I am your humble geisha girl tonight.
But, Gary stammered, you dont... you really shouldnt...
I have to attend your every, every need, she said. I have to feed you and entertain you, and care for you in every way. Without warning she whisked off his slippers and began massaging his toes.
Gad-get! Gary squawked. What are you doing!
Im going to make you as comfortable as I can and... she stopped short as she glanced up at him. Gary! Youre blushing! Ive never seen you blush!
Hang it up, partner, Gordon said with a chuckle. Yield to the mouse.
All right, all right, Gary said. He raised his foot back into Gadgets hands, resigned to his fate. She began to vigorously massage his toes again.
How else may I serve you, Gary-san?
Oh, heck, he smiled, finally joining the game. Peel me a grape. A purple one.
EPILOGUE - The Flatfoot and the Gumshoe
Gadget found her way through the walls of Los Angeles Police Headquarters, which was also, quite unknown to the human police, the headquarters of the Rodent Division, the animal parallel of the L.A.P.D. She followed a well-lit corridor to her destination, a door marked Interview 3. The door wasnt locked, and it wouldnt have slowed her significantly if it had been. She slipped into the room, illuminated by a single desk lamp that revealed a slouching figure in a hardwood chair. Startled, he looked up as she closed the door.
What are you doing here? Chip asked.
Gadget smiled as she pressed the door shut. I thought I might have to post your bail.
Great, Chip growled. I suppose everyone in town has heard about this.
I dont think anyone else monitors the Rodent Division frequency, Gadget said. I doubt this is going to make the late news.
The doorknob prodded Gadget in the rump as the door was pushed open, and she quickly scooted out of the way. A mouse well into his fifties, dressed in a white shirt with a tie hanging loose around the collar, entered and sharply glanced at the two of them.
Good evening, Inspector Henderson, Gadget said sheepishly.
The Inspector nodded to her and looked over an official looking document in his hand.
Well, the famous detective. Again, he began. The third time youve been hauled in this year. Lets see... interfering with officers in the performance of their duty... entering a police restricted area without authorization... Oh, this is good. Concealing, disturbing or destroying evidence of a criminal offense. And, as always, disturbing the peace. He set the documents aside. At least you didnt get charged with being under the influence of an irresistible substance.
Whats that? Gadget asked.
Catnip, the Inspector said.
Or chocolate, Chip grumbled.
Is that illegal now? Gadget asked, bewildered.
I aint talkin copper, Chip stated flatly. Youse got nuttin on me.
Henderson walked over to Chip and clapped him on the shoulder.
Chip... Im sorry! Bwahahahahah!!!
For cryin out loud, Bill, Chip groused halfheartedly, I wasnt going to mess up your crime scene. I was just wondering what happened.
I can tell from the report, Henderson chuckled. You saw the officers overlooking evidence and you tried to tell them so. Vehemently.
Gadget smiled and perched on the corner of the table as Henderson pulled up a chair and sat down with his old friend.
It was so obvious, Chip said. They were both walking right past the most important piece of evidence at the scene!
The street officers have to be methodical, Chip, Henderson explained. They dont have your talent for spotting clues and drawing quick conclusions. If they dont go by the book, theyll certainly miss something important.
Its my fault, Bill, Chip said. Ill steer clear of your investigations form now on. Youre the police, after all...
Whoa, whoa, Henderson said. Theres a much more important difference between you and us. Three - Two - One.
Blast off? Gadget suggested.
Or is that another statute I violated? Chip asked.
Henderson shook his head. Thats the number of the badge that hangs on the wall of Ranger Headquarters. A real police badge presented to you by a real police canine. Were the volunteers, the amateurs, Chip. You and the Rangers are the professionals. Its one reason the Rodent Division doesnt have a chief, just the precinct inspectors. We just follow the rules of the human police force and do what we can to help other animals.
Did you have that meeting with the other inspectors? Chip asked, his expression serious. Did you come to a decision?
We met, and theres no decision, Henderson said, sounding weary. Its a tough choice. No one wants to arm the force with deadly weapons. Were more reluctant than the British. But its hard to send young officers out on the street wondering if youve given them the tools they need to do the job.
Dont some of the federal agents carry Crosman guns? Gadget chimed in.
Yes, Henderson answered. Some of the elite forces or the intelligence services. Theyre very secretive. Ive never run into any of them.
Gadget pursed her lips shut. She had been running into a pair of those agents on a regular basis, and she didnt want to say anything to arouse the suspicions of two top detectives.
What about the officer that was hurt last month? Chip asked. Hows he doing?
Hes better, Henderson replied. Taking on three of Fat Cats hoods with a can of pepper spray, I dont know if he was brave or crazy. The vet says hell be able to walk again, eventually, but... He just shook his head at the many uncertainties.
It wasnt always like this, Bill, Chip said. It wasnt this nasty. Or this bleak. Something big is building up. I can just feel it.
There havent been any big capers, Henderson assured. Even Professor Nimnul has been trying to go legit again.
Speaking of legit, Chip said, pointing to the reports on the table, am I still busted?
Henderson picked up the arrest report and dropped it in the trash can. He turned to the Rangers and smiled gently.
An officers badge is the symbol of his or her promise to protect the innocent and help those in need. It is a mark of courage and resourcefulness in the face of danger. I still give Platos speech to every group of rookies that joins the Division. However, I see Im going to have to stop by the squad meetings and remind everyone that when the best detective in town points something out, they should pay attention.
Lets get outta here, Henderson said. Im on my own time now. Well get some coffee and pie at Elmers.
Might as well enjoy the quiet time, Chip agreed as they headed for the door. Who knows what will happen next?
COPYRIGHTS AND DISCLAIMERS: Gadget, Chip, Dale, Monterey Jack, Zipper, Foxglove and the Rescue Rangers are © and T.M. The Walt Disney Company and were employed here without permission.
All other characters, locations, equipment and situations are © 2006 by David D. White. Permission to copy and redistribute without charge is granted, provided the work is not altered, edited, cheated out of a fair chance to whomp the opposition or otherwise fiddled with.
Made on Macintosh computers with Appleworks and Adobe Go-Live software.