TALE SPIN: SUB-MEDITERRANEAN SEAWRECK BALOO

Fan-fiction story by jb

Disclaimer: The following story is based on the television series, characters and situations created by Jymn Magon & Mark Zaslove, Tale Spin © 1990, 1991 Walt Disney Company/Buena Vista Television. Fan-fiction story and non-Tale Spin characters are creations of the author and may not be used without permission. This is a work of fan-fiction using characters and property of the Walt Disney Company without consent and for non-profit use.  

 

                                       PART TWENTY-THREE

 

Leaning against the railing on the Prowler’s deck, Katie Dodd stared out at the twilight sky, where the stars danced above the burgeoning sunrise silhouetting the accompanying ships the Khan aircraft carrier Swiftsure and the two fishing trawlers Kerrew and Abulafia belonging to the Guardians of Molta; with her hair arranged into a modest bun and wearing a simple white large-collared blouse with a couple of buttons undone, light brown khaki pants and the ship-supplied blue slippers on her feet.

 She had had a somewhat restless night, wondering about the missing vial that was inside the Moltese Eagle bearing the possible location of the Holy Grail. Over and over, she replayed the memory of her find years back and of the recent scene in the sick bay the other night.

 I know the parchment was inside that statuette, she thought. I just know it was!

“Mind if I join you, Doctor?”

The vixen turned to the voice. It was Rebecca, dressed in her ta’i chi outfit with her purple jacket over it for protection from the light cool breeze. In the short time she had known her, Rebecca turned out to be a good friend to have and she appreciated her company, next to Myra ’s. She gave a small but doleful smile.

“It’s a free ship,” she sighed with a shrug, turning back to the dawn. “What brings you up so early this morning?”

“Had to get Molly down to the galley to work the morning shift and thought I’d do some ta’i chi since I was up anyway,” Rebecca answered, walking over and standing right next to her at the railing. “At first, she was very reluctant to wake up until I told her that Emil serves ice-cold gruel to latecomers for breakfast, she zoomed out of bed faster than Danger Woman pouncing on a bad guy.”

“Does he?”

Rebecca mischievously snorted. “No, but she doesn’t have to know that.”

Katie giggled a bit over that and got quiet again. The two women looked at the colourful sunrise coming over the Sub-Mediterranean in silence, then after awhile the she-bear struck up a conversation.

“You were up before I was. Couldn’t sleep?”

“No. I’ve been trying to figure it out, Rebecca. Why didn’t that parchment show up on the x-ray? I know that blast I suffered from the September Weed might have knocked out a few memories, but not this.”

“I’m sorry, Katie. Perhaps…Karnage got a hold of it before he retreated – ”

“Don’t even mention that!” Katie exclaimed, shuddering at the dreaded thought. “But he couldn’t have known about the map inside either, could he? After all, he used to be a Guardian once.”

“Maybe it’s best not to dwell on it for now. Want to join me for ta’i chi before breakfast?”

“I…I don’t think I’d be able to concentrate on…”

“‘Mornin’, ladies,” said Baloo, just coming towards them while holding a steaming mug of coffee. “Whatcha doin’ out on deck here in yer PJs again, Becky?”

Katie turned and raised a knowing eyebrow at Rebecca, which the archaeologist swore the she-bear was trying to conceal a dainty blush and smile beneath her hand.

 Again? What have I been missing around here?...

The businesswoman was about to correct him, but thought better of it. Instead, she just explained: “Oh, Katie’s just baffled about the parchment inside the Moltese Eagle. It’s gone missing. It didn’t even show up on x-ray when Shere Khan wanted a look at it last night in sick bay.”

Baloo smiled mysteriously and rested his coffee mug on the railing.

“Oh…ya mean,” he said, lifting his captain’s hat and gently pulling out a medieval era-looking cylindrical vial, “this ol’ thing here?”

Both women gasped in surprise.

“The scroll!” said Katie in a hushed tone.

“Baloo! H-h-how…w-w-what…w-where…?” stammered his employer.

“Heh-heh-heh,” the pilot chuckled, as he placed his hat back on his head as the vixen took the vial from him. “While you gals were busy gabbin’ with ol’ Khanny yesterday, I was helpin’ out to pack away the Cache o’ Molta with the other crewmembers an’ thought it’d be best if I…‘retrieved’ it fer safe keepin’, jus’ in case.”

Looking around carefully on deck, Katie put on her reading glasses that she had in her blouse pocket, twisted the cap off the vial and gently pulled out the parchment inside. It still had the original wax seal and was perfectly preserved as she had remembered as a graduate student way back, much to her great relief.

“I think you’ll find the map’s A-okay there, Red. I checked it out myself carefully before givin’ it to ya.”

“But…” the archaeologist began, puzzled and delighted all at once as she held the precious artefact in her hands, “but how did you know that Khan would demand to have a look at the Moltese Eagle?”

“I didn’t. I kinda figgered it out back on the September Weed when you were runnin’ that spiel ‘bout it in the vault on the Holy Grail an’ thought that a guy like him would wanna live forever as long as money’s around, right? An’ I also got to thinkin’ ‘bout why he would wanna back an expedition like this so quickly without thinkin’ it through first, if he didn’t already knew the value of it when ya said that the ship belonged to him in name?”

He took a sip of his coffee.

“And you did this…for me?”

“That…plus it was only fair.”

“Fair?”

“Katie, I took the vial ‘cause after all, finders-keepers. You found the Moltese Eagle first. Not to mention that those Guardian fellas kept that fancy gewgaw around fer so long, ‘cause they too knew ‘bout the Eagle an’ its secrets.”

“So they were protecting the map to prevent the Holy Grail from being found,” Rebecca whispered just then as she realised his meaning.

“Give the Boss Lady a prize,” Baloo grinned, raising his coffee mug in a toast, then took another sip.

“Baloo,” said Katie with an appreciative smile, “how can I ever thank you?”

“By doin’ whacha think is best.”

“Huh?”

“The way I see it, the Guardians are the protectors of their faith, which is why they went after the Cache like you did – to save it, not fer fortune an’ glory. But those guys put their necks out fer us yesterday, even though it wasn’t part of their plans. If it wasn’t for them, we’d all be dead an’ the Moltese Eagle would be in ol’ Karny’s grubby hands right ‘bout now.”

“Now I know ya, Red…” the bear continued, resting his hand gently on the vixen’s shoulder. “Yer a dedicated scientist an’ all that, but yer also a decent person, too. You can go an’ hunt fer that Grail, give the scroll back to Jordy or toss it overboard inta the drink right here an’ now an’ that’ll be the end o’ the whole enchilada. I ain’t gonna tell ya how to go ‘bout it, ‘cept…go with what ya feel is the right thing to do. So if y’all ‘scuse me, I gotta go see how Khanny’s mechanics are doin’ with my baby. See ya at breakfast time.”

With a tip of his cap, Baloo walked away from the two women and towards the ship’s hangar. Rebecca and Katie silently stared after the pilot with a sense of admiration, respect and…something else they couldn’t explain deep inside at that very moment. The businesswoman sometimes forgot that despite his laid-back manner and unsophisticated behaviour, her pilot did have a talent in deductive reasoning.

 Like that time we went on that crazy “espionage” mission to Thembria with that phoney-baloney spy Jack Case, she grimaced inwardly at the memory.

Myra was right…he really does have a heart bigger than himself.

“Remind me again to give that man a pay raise.”

“You better believe it, sister,” said Katie.

It was then that the she-bear noticed there was a smile on the archaeologist’s face and found it just a little bit…disconcerting to her for some reason.

“What’re you thinking about, Doctor?”

 “Oh…just what a truly lucky woman you are, Rebecca Cunningham, that’s all.”

“In what way?”

Katie didn’t want to answer that, but instead said as she twisted the cap back on the vial: “You know, I think I will join you for ta’i chi after all. But first, I got to go do something.”

“What’s that?” Rebecca asked her as the vixen walked away down the deck.

“The right thing.”

 

 

 

 

 

“How are you feeling this morning, Jordan?” Amante asked.

The leader of the Guardians of Molta rose slowly but stiffly from his stateroom bed and moaned to his second-in-command: “Like the Moltese Rugby Club used me for a tackling dummy…”

“Is there anything I can get you?”

“Aye. The head of Don Karnage and a new set of ribs.”

The raccoon chuckled softly. “I’ll see what I can do about that request, Grand Leader.”

Jordan had finished buttoning up his shirt after putting on his pants when a knock came upon their stateroom door. Amante walked over to answer it, opening it to find Katie standing before them, still with her glasses on but now wearing a khaki jacket over her sleek black kung fu outfit that hugged her shapely figure.

“Um…good morning, Doctor Dodd.”

“Good morning, Commander Amante…Grand Master Ducina,” she addressed him matter-of-factly.

“What can we do for you this morning, Doctor?” Jordan asked, now standing up in the presence of a woman despite his pain, asserting that he was still in command of the Guardians of Molta.

 “You can start by letting me in and closing the door, if that’s no trouble,” she said tartly.

“Oh! Of course – come right in.”

“You’re probably wondering why I’m here,” said Katie as she entered and stood in the middle of the room.

“Unless this is your idea of a wake-up call, Doctor,” Amante smirked, allowing his eyes to wander over her.

 The archaeologist tried to ignore his leer, but continued anyway, “Yesterday, when the Moltese Eagle was x-rayed, you all seemed surprised as well as disappointed over the supposed missing contents inside.” 

The Guardians looked at each other uneasily.

“We…don’t know what you mean by that,” answered Jordan cautiously.

“I think you know what I mean, Grand Leader. I’m talking about the ancient parchment inside the Eagle that’s reputed to contain the map to the final location of the Holy Grail.”

“Oh, please, Doctor,” Amante spoke condescendingly. “People have been looking for the Holy Grail for centuries. The idea of the Guardians of Molta having any acknowledgment of such a map leading to it, that is…well, preposterous!”

“Then I guess you don’t want this back,” said Katie, producing the prized oblong vial from inside her jacket before them, which gasps emitted from the wide-eyed Guardian leaders who then crossed themselves profusely before it.

“The parchment!” exclaimed Jordan, approaching the vixen. “How did you –”

“Don’t ask me to explain. The important thing is that it’s here and in one piece. Years ago, you people saved my life – a debt I can never repay. So, I’m presenting it to the Guardians of Molta, the defenders of the Cross as the true caretakers of it and in a gesture of goodwill.”

She then handed over the vial over to the Moltese canine, which he graciously accepted.

“Doctor…I…I am speechless.”

“Just make sure that this map never, ever leaves Molta, Grand Leader. Or let its existence be known outside your Order. There are many people out there who would do anything and everything to get their hands on it.”

“On my word of honour and to the Father, the map will be very well protected from the outside world by us, Doctor Dodd. You honour us all. Thank you very, very much.”

“You’re welcome, Grand Leader. And thank you.”

 

 

 

 

 

Rebecca made her way to the ship’s gymnasium, looking forward to a little peace and quiet of t’ai chi after the hectic events from the previous day. Opening the door, she casually stepped into the gym and got only a couple of steps when she felt a rough and heavy hand placed on her shoulder, with a gruff voice rumbling:

“Hey, you – ”

Panicking, the she-bear took the hand and tossed the owner right over her shoulder with a “KIII-YAAAAAH!!!” and a large thud reverberated on the floor. Before she could get a look at her attacker, Rebecca saw another figure from the corner of her eye. She swiftly thrust her left leg and made a direct kick from behind. Hearing a “whoof!” from the other assailant, she turned to see a huge snow leopard doubled over and coughing, then directed an upper cut with her palm to his chin, sending him flying clear across the room – plus a couple of molars – and flat on his back.

Then she saw the first attacker, a fearsome black panther recovering from his toss; charging at her. Letting him get close, Rebecca managed to knee him in the stomach, causing him to buckle to his knees and was about to slam her elbow onto his skull, when a baritone voice calmly called out:

“Stop. That will be quite enough.”

She did so and looked to see that in the middle of the gymnasium mats stood Shere Khan himself, fully dressed in a ta’i chi outfit just like hers, only that it was of a shimmering turquoise silk sheen with white hems and holding a practising chien double-edged straight sword – handled by the most skilled practitioners of the martial art – in one hand. It was a surprise to see the magnate in such attire, usually dressed in expensive three-piece tailored business suits.

“Bravo, Miss Cunningham. Quite an impressive display of technique on my bodyguards, I must say.”

“Your…bodyguards?” said the businesswoman, blushing profusely. “M-mister Khan! I’m so sorry for that! I had no idea –!”

“That’s quite alright,” he said nonchalantly, sheathing the chien into its scabbard that was handed over to him by his scrawny, emaciated “yes-man” tiger aide. “I was just finishing up my daily practice, anyway. Come…join with me for the remainder of it, please.”

“Um…thank you. I’d…be honoured to.”

“You two,” Khan icily addressed his bodyguards, “are dismissed.”

Still coughing and groaning, the snow leopard and panther meekly made their way out of the gymnasium. Then he turned to the “yes-man”, handing him back the sword as Rebecca removed her coat and placed it on the coat rack nearby and said, “Give those two their dismissal papers, severance pay and airplane tickets upon arrival at our port-of-call in Velveeta. Their services will no longer be required.”

“Yes, Mister Khan.”

“And one last thing – issue out a call for two new personal bodyguards.”

“Yes, sir, Mister Khan, sir.”     

As the aide walked away, Khan momentarily looked at the diminutive she-bear who did a few quick warm-up stretches by herself and wryly thought: Perhaps I should hire her instead. Little wonder why the Air Pirates didn’t stand a chance…

Joining the enigmatic tycoon, Rebecca stood next to him and together did the “Throwing the Loom” movement in syncopation, feeling the balance that came from doing the exercise, then the tiger commented after a few minutes of silence: “You’re graceful, Miss Cunningham…obviously a disciple of Master Yuen Cheung-Yan, yes?”

“Thanks. I also took up ballet as a girl. You…studied under Master Yuen yourself?”

“Ten years a pupil at the How-Yu-Bin Academy, 811 Ajax Lane. Gives ten percent discounts on all first lessons. I was one of his first students when he first established his school in Cape Suzette.”

“I never see you at the Academy.”

Private lessons,” stated Khan pointedly.

“Oh,” Rebecca said in a small voice, saying nothing else afterwards.

Letting this sink for a moment, the tiger remained quiet to the businesswoman as they continued their exercise. After a while when they lifted their right arms, palms turned then extended outwards and upward to their foreheads, he spoke again: “I wanted to congratulate you on a successful recovery operation with the archaeological team, along with your flight crew. You have an exceptional personnel at your employ that’s…eclectic at best, yet competent at their disciplines.”

“Thank you. I couldn’t run my business without them.”

“Hmm, yes. Not exactly how I would run a business, yet it does work in your favour. You also have a natural way with negotiation that is impressive at best.”

The she-bear manager chuckled a little. “From my maternal grandfather. He was a diplomat in the government once.”

“As I said, Miss Cunningham; your skills at negotiation are impressive. It is something that I could use very much at Khan Industries these days as the business world becomes more complex.”

Her heart skipped a beat. “What…what are you saying, sir?”

“I’m offering you an executive position in my company. You’ll have your own office at Khan Tower, a substantial benefits package, company car at your disposal and be earning a salary of fifty thousand a year.”

Fifty thousand dollars a year! The businesswoman’s head swam, making her briefly lose her concentration. “Oh, my…that’s…so…”

 “Take all the time you need to consider my offer.”

 Rebecca knew very well that there weren’t many women executives in the corporate structure and she saw it as an opportunity to become the trailblazer that she had always aspired to be. And with that kind of money, she could afford to buy a house, send Molly to the private school back home that she attended to at her age, take a yearly vacation, get herself a new wardrobe…

But then she thought about Higher for Hire. That unpredictable thrill of charting her own course in running an independent business that was finally making a respectable profit. The freedom to travel at almost any time. Watching Kit become an adult. The zany antics, but competent mechanizations of Wildcat in keeping the operation running…

And then there was…Baloo

“Mister Khan,” she finally managed to say. “Your offer is very generous – and very tempting. But…I’m afraid I’m more of the type of person who’d rather be the boss of me. So, I’ll have to say no thank you. But I do appreciate the opportunity given, though.”

Khan regarded at the businesswoman with his usual stony expression before giving a brief grin and light chuckle. “I would have expected that answer from the granddaughter of Hamish Mackenzie.”

Rebecca was surprised. “You…knew my grandfather?”

“Let’s just say, we both ran in similar circles long before you were born,” he answered, now stopping his exercises and reached out for the robe his returned aide had waiting for him before putting it on. “It took me some time ago to recognize the same entrepreneurial spirit of his in you. Reminded me of your very grandfather himself.”

“Hmph. Mom said it was plain stubbornness.”

“Hmm, yes. That, too.”

The businesswoman raised an eyebrow with a little smirk at that comment, but wisely kept whatever retort she had in mind to herself. After all, he is the client…no matter how rich, powerful, ruthless and pompous he may be.

“Very well, I shall respect your decision. And in gratitude for your help and recovery of the Cache of Molta – plus giving the underwater hydraulic lift a worthy and successful test of its abilities on this expedition – I shall double the payment for your services that we previously agreed upon in the contract.”

“Th-thank you very much,” Rebecca said gratefully.

“After all of that, you’ve most certainly earned it. I bid you good day,” Khan concluded dryly with a short bow to her which the she-bear responded in return before he walked away. As he and his aide were leaving, Katie just then came through the door. The vixen stepped aside for the two, to which the tiger politely nodded to her.

“Good morning, Doctor Dodd,” he said and then went on his way.
            “Good morning, Mister Khan,” she said, looking back at him for a moment as he walked down the corridor, removed her khaki jacket and glasses, then proceeded to join her friend with a warm smile.

“Ready, Katie?”

“Ready, Rebecca.”

Standing side by side, as the two ladies started off with the movement “Wave Hands like Clouds, Listen to Seashells,” the archaeologist asked: “What was Khan in here for?”

“Oh,” said Rebecca, concealing a secret smile, “just business.”

 

 

 

 

Baloo whistled “Minnie the Mermaid” to himself inside the Sea Duck’s cockpit, going over a routine systems check in the air hangar. The grey bear was really impressed with the job Khan’s onboard mechanics did in repairing his “baby” into tip-top shape after the harrowing dogfight it had endured the other day, although he would never trade Wildcat’s abilities in fixing things up in a instant for all the gold in the universe.

He then heard the sound of footsteps coming up the lowered back ramp and followed by a gentle rapping on the side of the hull with a voice that asked: “May I come in?”

The pilot turned around and was surprised to see who it was. Grabbing a nearby rag and wiping his hands, he walked out of the cockpit to greet the visitor.

“Good morning, Mister Baloo.”

“‘Mornin’ there, Khanny,” he replied, firmly shaking the tycoon’s extended hand. Shere Khan had changed back to his usual business suit and tie, still accompanied by his tiger aide. “Welcome ‘board the Sea Duck.”

“Mmm, yes,” said the mogul, giving a furtive look-around with barely concealed distaste. “Quite a…unique aircraft.”

Baloo noticed his expression and felt somewhat insulted.

 Unique?! What’s that mean in Latin…“Flyin’ scrapheap”??

 But remembering that Khan was a client of Higher for Hire for the moment, he swallowed his pride and said: “Well, it may not be the fine Corinthian leather an’ chrome that a guy like yerself is used to, but this baby’s gotten me outta more scrapes than a schoolyard scrap.”

“Yes…I can quite imagine so.”   

The pilot led the tigers inside the seaplane and offered them a seat, only Khan politely declined. So he sat down himself and asked: “So what do I owe this courtesy call, Mister Khan?”

“I’ll get to the point. I must commend on your charge, the young Kit Cloudkicker, on his ability to divert control of the Prowler’s batteries in damaging Don Karnage’s dirigible and in his commandeering of this airplane against insurmountable odds. He obviously had a very good instructor to guide him to do so.”

“Well, what can I say?” Baloo chuckled. “The boy’s got talent.”

 Man, I wish that guy wouldn’t use so many fancy-schmancy words…

“Agreed. I just stopped by sick bay to check on his progress and the ship’s doctor has given me a most satisfactory status on his recovery. You and Miss Cunningham should be most proud. But I have to inquire one thing, if I may…have you given any consideration over the young man’s future?”

Baloo scratched behind his ear and pondered. “Well, bein’ a pilot is the only thing the kid’s ever wanted to be. Couldn’t get him to think otherwise even if ya tried.”

“To be sure. No disrespect to your profession, but do I believe young Cloudkicker’s horizons could be expanded to an even greater potential in life and I would like to assist in that particular area.”

The bear felt some reservations in whatever Khan was proposing, so he cautiously asked: “So whaddya sayin’ here?”

“For his role in preventing Don Karnage in gaining the Cache of Molta and saving this vessel and its crew, I wish to offer the boy a college scholarship when he reaches his eighteenth birthday. It will be worth a small, but substantial sum of twenty-five thousand dollars.”

Baloo felt woozy. I would faint dead on sight if I wasn’t already conscious…

Twenty-five thousand dollars for his schooling was a lot more than he could muster up on a cargo pilot’s salary. He started thinking about providing the kid with a decent education lately and wondered how he would do that. The offer was tempting to accept, but…

“I’ll give you all the time you need to consider my offer, Baloo.”

“Just gotta ask ya, Khanny – what’s the catch?”

The billionaire raised an eyebrow at the pilot’s directness. Ordinarily he was not a person accustomed to being questioned from anyone, yet for some reason he made Baloo the exception to this rule – not to mention the way he informally addressed him. Despite his boorish manner, he always did respect the large bear for his unorthodox but highly exceptional piloting skills and verve.

“The boy said he owed me a debt for allowing him to follow my Elite Pilot Squadron back to the Prowler, despite his injuries and damage to your airplane. I regard such devotion greatly.”

A proud smile creased the pilot’s face that he couldn’t hide – and he didn’t want to. Khan smiled a little himself.

“And as you know, I’ve always believed in paying your debts and never breaking a deal. The only debt I want Kit to pay me in return is in getting a good education. That would be ‘the catch’ to my offer.”

“Gee, Khanny…I dunno what to say, ‘cept…thanks. I’ll take your offer.”

“Good. Set up an appointment at my office when you get back home as soon as possible and I’ll have the necessary paperwork all arranged for you to sign. And one stipulation…”

“Lemme guess. Ya wanna keep all of this a secret, huh?”

“Correct. Now if you’ll pardon me, I have other business matters to attend to. Good day.”

Khan gave him a respectful nod and began his descent down the ramp with his aide at his heels. Just then, Baloo called out: “Hey, Khan! What am I gonna say ta Kit ‘bout how I got the money to pay fer college?”

The tiger turned back his head and replied clearly without raising his voice in turn: “You’re a creative individual, Mister Baloo. Tell him that a rich uncle of yours left you something in his will.”

Baloo was a little flabbergasted. “Heh-heh…right. I’ll…work on it.”

“I’m sure you will,” said Khan before he walked away from the Sea Duck and repeated: “Good day.”

 

 

 

 

 

The lynx doctor carefully peered into Kit’s widened eye with his penlight for a moment and then snapped the instrument off as the youngster blinked rapidly at the glaze temporarily etched inside his retinal walls.

“You’re doing just fine, young man,” said the medical practitioner to the bedridden navigator. “But we’ll keep you in sick bay until we get back to Velveeta to be on the safe side.”

“Aw, do I have to?”

“Doctor’s orders, Kit.” he playfully winked at him. “You have one heck of a concussion. How’d you manage to fly a plane in such a condition without passing out is one for the medical books.”

“Good old-fashioned stubbornness, I suppose,” the young bear simply answered with a sigh, gently falling back down on his pillow.

“Knock-knock,” said Katie, poking her head in the opening of the privacy curtains surrounding Kit’s bed and was back to wearing her khaki ensemble. “Is it okay for the boy to have visitors, doctor?”

“Certainly, Doctor Dodd. Just finished examining him. If you’ll excuse me, I have other patients to attend to.”

As the lynx walked away, the vixen came up to Kit, sat down on a chair next to his bed and crossed her legs with a pleasant smile. “So, how are we doing this morning, Kit?”

“A bit better,” the navigator said, sitting back up against his pillow. “Next time I dive around corridors, I’ll be sure to carry Papa Bear’s football helmet with me.” He paused for a moment then said: “You’re looking fine, Katie.”

“Feeling fine, thank you. Uh…I just stopped by to say…I’m sorry for the way I spoke to you yesterday on deck when you questioned about the explosion of the September Weed and…”

“That’s okay, now…you were just protecting the Moltese Eagle, that’s all.”

The vixen looked a little startled by his statement. “You… you knew about that?”

“Baloo told me about a couple of hours ago. But don’t worry,” he added when he saw Katie’s concerned expression, “your secret’s safe with me.”

“Oh, of course,” she said with relief. “Look…I’ve never been comfortable in making apologies. I’ve always kept people at a safe distance, even those whom I know are good at heart…I’m trying hard to learn to trust now.”

“I’ve think you’ve already learned, Katie,” Kit assured her, extending his hand out to her. “Friends?”

“Still and always,” the vixen smiled warmly and gently hugged him, that surprised and pleased Kit greatly, revelling in her embrace which excited him enough; until he heard a grating clearing of someone’s throat nearby.

“Do you two want to be alone?” said a familiar voice, dripping with sarcasm.

The two of them turned to see Melita standing in the curtain opening, regarding the willowy archaeologist with a stare that could have easily halved the Rock of Gibraltar in a single glance. Katie knew from personal experience what that kind of look meant that it was time to make herself scarce.

She immediately excused herself. “I…believe I have that meeting with Myra,” Dropping a platonic kiss on his cheek, Katie added: “Talk to you later, Kit.”

“‘Bye,” he replied as the vixen headed for the exit out of sick bay, passing by the she-canine who just followed her with the poisonous glare that he thought glowed with a trace of green in her grey irises that made him both feel a little bit uneasy and somewhat flattered.

“My, aren’t you the popular one with the ladies,” said the Moltese, still scowling as she walked over to his bedside.

“Heh-heh,” chuckled the navigator nervously. “We’re…just friends.”

Melita still looked skeptical. “Hmph. You enjoyed getting hugged by her from the looks of it. Admit it.”

He was going to fess up, but just said: “Is it any different when you kissed me on the cheek at the Grand Harbour a couple of days ago?”

The Moltese Dame-in-training looked like she wanted to melt through the floor, yet forced herself to keep it together. She tossed her head, crossing her arms in front of her chest and cleared her throat again.

“That…was business, Cloudkicker, and besides…we didn’t know each other that well, then.”

“So…is this a business call, too?”

“In a way, yes,” Melita’s tone was blunt, then it softened. “Um, thank you for saving my life, back in the turret. That was pretty…gallant of you.”

“You’re welcome. I guess we’re even now, saving each other’s necks.”

“Yeah,” she said flatly, looking down at the deck and shuffling her feet. There was a silence that filled the room and between the two youngsters. They knew there was more they wanted to say to each other, but neither one could bring themselves to do it.

“Melita?”

“What?”

“Remember on the Sea Duck when I called you ‘the bait’? Well, uh…I’m really, really sorry for that. I usually don’t talk to girls like that at all, even at my angriest. But, be honest…were you?”

The Moltese looked at him and answered: “I was sent by my brother and the Order to scope out and take photographs of the Prowler and the Sea Duck discreetly. I already had information on you and your companions before you arrived in Molta and if necessary, I also had to do what I did to keep up the pretence for the sake of the mission and the Guardians. If I hurt you and you felt used, I truly am sorry, Kit. But it never was intentional, really.”

Kit just looked at her for a second or two, turned his head away from her and sighed heavily. He had expected as much.

“Look…I got to go…” Melita said, feeling her mouth go all dry and numb inside. “I’ll…see you around…”

“Yeah…later,” mumbled the navigator, closing his eyes and pretended to go to sleep.

The she-canine slowly turned, walked out of sick bay and down the corridor. As she tried to convince herself it was the right thing to do, silent tears rolled down her face like rain and she didn’t care if anyone noticed at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Dockyards Quay,

Grand Harbour, Velveeta, Molta

Five days later

 

 Baloo grunted, stacking one large crate atop another in a row of three-by-three boxes in the Sea Duck’s hold and then wiped his perspiring brow with the back of his hand. Cricking his back a bit, which made some popping sounds, he walked out the back ramp towards Rebecca with her clipboard and Molly by her side while Kit and Myra loaded everyone’s baggage onto the plane for the trip home.

“There ya go, Beckers. Gotcha doilies an’ tablecloths onboard the ‘Duck.”

“Good,” she said, ticking off her clipboard the last items on her list, including their personal luggage and several items from the Cache of Molta. The businesswoman, back in her usual attire of the white turtleneck sweater, purple jacket and slacks, had spent two days in town on a business trade excursion making deals with some of the local Moltese lace makers to take a huge inventory back to Cape Suzette, thanks in part to the extra money Shere Khan offered as part of the contract she signed at the beginning of the expedition.

“What’s with buying up so many Moltese lace tablecloths and doilies, Rebecca?” Katie asked her.

“These things are so darling, Katie. I could make a tidy profit with them back home in the stores. Plus I got them at a bargain.”

The huge pilot guffawed. “That’s our li’l capitalist fer ya, Red. Always lookin’ fer one way or ‘nother ta make a buck. Any more business savvy an’ she’ll end up bein’ ‘nother Khan, if one wasn’t bad ‘nough.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Fly Boy,” she replied coquettishly. “I think I would look good in a three-piece business suit.”

Women wearin’ business suits? Nah – it’ll never go inta style... 

“So, are ready to go home, Papa Bear?” Kit asked as Myra and he walked out of the Sea Duck. He was still wearing the bandage around his head and been told by the ship’s doctor to keep it on for a couple of more days until he got back.

“Not quite yet, Ace. We gotta wait for clearance from Khanny ‘bout lendin’ us a coupla pilots from his Elite Pilot Squadron for the trip back first.”

“So what happens to the rest of the Cache?” asked Molly.

“It’ll be going to Katie’s university on the Swiftsure, honey, where it will be safe,” answered her mother.

The she-bear cub looked up at the tall vixen. “You’re a teacher?”

“Part-time,” Katie answered with a modest grin.

“Ya got that right,” Baloo chuckled again. “An’ even ol’ Karny ain’t that crazy ‘nough to take on an aircraft carrier, Pigtails.”

“Well, it was very good of Mister Khan to provide us with an armed escort back to Cape Suzette,” the red-haired vixen agreed. “I’ll feel a whole lot better with the additional security.”

“An’ I’ll feel a whole lot better if we can get this show on the road,” the pilot said. “I’m feelin’ a li’l antsy to go.”

 “Maybe a little impromptu ceremony will agreeably fill your time, Baloo?”

The grey bear turned to the friendly voice, finding the Grand Leader of the Order of Molta , Jordan Ducina flanked by Melita and Amante, coming towards the docked seaplane.

“Heya, Jordy! Come to see us off?”

The Moltese just ignored the way Baloo pronounced his name with a restrained smile, while his right-hand and sister smirked a little.

In seeing Melita again, Kit tried to look indifferent, given they hadn’t seen each other since they docked into Velveeta. The young bear admitted to himself that he missed her, but remained impassive. However, he was surprised to see the she-canine wearing a light yellow summer dress flecked with blue dots and matching bow on her head, the hem billowing in the light sea breeze along with her hair-like ears that made her look womanly.

“You…you look nice,” he said. “Really.”

“Um…thank you,” she whispered shyly, trying hard not to blush or even smile.

“A ceremony?” Myra asked them.

“Yes, Doctor Foxworthy. In appreciation for the services rendered to the Order and the island,” announced Jordan, “we, the Guardians of Molta, would like to present to each and every one of you, the Gold Moltese Cross of Honour.”

The Higher for Hire team and archaeologists were pleased and touched by this gesture from their new friends.

“Well!” replied Baloo. “Thank ya kindly, Jordy!”

 “We’ll be very honoured to accept your award, Grand Leader,” answered Katie.

Melita approached each one and placed them in their hands their award, which the golden medal had a red-enamelled shield with a white cross of woven ribbons running rampant on both sides and attached underneath by a white-enamelled Moltese Cross with four fleurs-de-lis emblems wedged between each corner and a regal crown atop of the Cross hung on a red-and-white diagonally-striped ribbon; congratulating them all and saved Kit for last.

“And to further recognize your efforts,” said the Guardian leader, “it also gives us great pleasure and honour to bestow onto all of you honorary titles as Guardians of the Order of Molta. We salute and thank you all.”

“Wow!” exclaimed Molly.

“Gee! From Ace o’ Base ta Honorary Guardian! Who’d have thunk o’ that?”

“Yeah,” Rebecca quipped, “the last time anybody almost gave you anything from an official was thirty months for illegally parking the Sea Duck next to a snowbank in Thembria, Fly Boy.”

“Hey, it was just for a coupla minutes.”

“We also have a special citation to present, as addressed by my sister, Dame Melita Ducina.”

Kit was taken aback by this title given to her. Dame Melita Ducina?...

The she-canine walked backed up to Molly, looked directly at her with serious conviction and began to speak.

“Molly Cunningham…you saved my life, twice. First in the turret aboard the Prowler, and then onboard the Sea Duck during the struggle against that Air Pirate. Such courage cannot be overlooked. In the Great War, my late mother had joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomany – FANY for short – to help the Britannians and their allies. Mama not only provided relief and entertainment to the casualties under her watch, she was awarded the Crox de guerre three times for bravery under fire during that time.”

“For actions most worthy of a Dame of Molta and of my mother,” Melita continued as Amante approached the girls, “I present to you with honour, gratitude and permission, one of my mother’s Croix de guerre.”

Molly gulped nervously while the Moltese opened a small jewellery box and lifted out a dark red chevron-shaped ribbon attached to a bronze cross with two swords intersected on both sides and a palm leaf in the centre. Kneeling down to pin it onto the left corner of the she-bear cub’s shirt lapel, Melita smiled and said to her: “I’ll never know what it’s like to have a sister, Molly…but at least I now have a sister-in-arms around.”

The she-canine then hugged her as warmly as the applause that came from the small group. Rebecca just then felt motherly pride swell in her throat, getting emotional by the gesture. She had been strict in punishing her daughter for disobeying and placing herself in harm’s way, but deep down she was lovingly proud of the way Molly saved Kit and Melita during the seizure of the battleship and secretly was glad that she had come all this way. She didn’t want to think what would have happened to the two youngsters in the burning turret had she not been there…

As the two girls parted, Melita wrinkled her nose at her for a moment. “Why do you smell like a garlic crusher?”

“You would be too if you’ve been peeling garlic in the galley for the last three days, Melita. I sure could use Mom’s bath oil right now.” 

As the Moltese she-canine laughed, Captain Hotspur from the Prowler came up to the ensemble gathered by the Sea Duck.

“Baloo? Mister Khan has instructed me to inform you that your armed aerial escorts to Cape Suzette are ready to fly back with you when you are,” he said. “Have a safe flight home.”

“Thanks, Cap’n Hotspur. Good luck with the repairs on yer ship.”

“Thank you, Captain Baloo, for saving the Prowler and her crew. It’s good to see you in action once again. You have my deepest gratitude – and respect.”

The lion ship commander saluted him, which the pilot returned.

Amante shook hands with Katie. “Farewell, Doctor Dodd. Thank you for helping to recover the Cache of Molta and…for opening my eyes to what a woman is capable of doing.”

“Thank you, Amante. That’s quite an admission to make. It must have hurt.”

You have no idea, lady.

“I’d go to battle with you two anytime,” the raccoon commented, then adding with a smile: “but never against you.”

 “I hope you will come back to Molta again someday and pay us a visit, Rebecca,” said Jordan, shaking her hand. Despite herself, the businesswoman couldn’t help but feel a bit weak in the knees with the warm look in his grey eyes.

“Why, thank you, Jordan,” she smiled brightly. “And I’m very sorry for dropping your head onto the deck like that back there.”

“All forgotten. And I’m sure Bianca would gladly fix us a fine Moltese meal for us all.”

Rebecca felt her ego shrivel up a little at him mentioning his wife, yet put on a brave face. “Oh…yes. Of course.”

 Oh, well...easy come, easy go.

“I see that you’ve got a Gold Moltese Cross of Honour as well, Melita,” Kit noticed pinned on one of the shoulder straps of the she-canine’s dress as the adults continued to talk in the background.

“That’s what happens when you get a promotion in the ranks, Cloudkicker.”
            “You…is that what that Dame title was what your brother was talking about back there?”

“Yes. Thanks to you and this mission, I’ve proven myself in my abilities and am now a full-fledged Dame of the Guardians of Molta, plus I’m the first woman to be awarded the Gold Cross of Honour in the history of the Order.”

“Well, that’s awesome! Congratulations on your award…and your title.”

“Thanks again. I’ve really couldn’t have done it without you.”

“You’re welcome.”

She paused for a moment before continuing. “Kit…about what I said in sick bay…”

“Forget it.”

“No, I don’t want to. I… really didn’t mean all of what I said back there about using you like that. It wasn’t part of any plan to do that. I really did want to be with you and take you around Velveeta that day. I did have a nice time with you. It really meant something to me; I’ve never quite met a boy like you before.”

“And I’ve never met a girl like you before…thank goodness!”

Laughing self-consciously, the two looked at each other for a moment before the navigator continued. “Maybe…I’ll come by this way again someday, Melita. By then, I’ll hope to have my own plane and take you on a real flight.”

“I doubt I could ever like flying, Kit. But, for you,” the Moltese girl said with a little smile, “I’ll try to make an exception.”

“I hope so,” he said, stepping close to her. “Will we see each other again?”

“We have an old saying here: ‘Kull zmien zmienu’ – ‘Everything in its own time.’”

 Now closer than ever, they fully realized their true feelings starting to surface and didn’t want to stop at just a plain old goodbye...

Kit then decided to brave it. “And how you say in Moltese…‘kiss me’?”

Eyes half-closed, Melita breathed passionately: “Bies lili.”

Holding both hands, they placed each other’s lips together and kissed.

Jordan just finished talking to Baloo and Rebecca; he then turned to witness the scene in surprise, cried out: “Melita!

But the young couple paid no heed to what was going on, totally oblivious in the ecstasy they shared between themselves. Her brother was about to approach them, when the grey pilot gently held him back with the palm of his hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, hey…let the kids have their moment, Jordy.” Goodness knows the boy’s earned it.

But…” said the Moltese Guardian leader weakly and looking on helplessly, “but, that’s…my kid sister....”

“Kid sisters do grow up,” added Rebecca, smiling at the young love scene fondly.

“Yeesh!” Molly remarked, making a face. “I wonder what that tastes like?”

Molly…” Rebecca playfully scolded her daughter with a chortle.

Kit and Melita finally ended their kiss, slightly dewy-eyed. The navigator took a deep breath with a smile to follow along with the she-canine, both their hearts beating in syncopation.

“First kiss?” asked Melita, joyously trembling a little.

The young bear could only nod drunkenly.

“Me too,” she whispered with a blush and the warmest smile she could beam.

“Hate to break this up, Li’l Britches, but it’s time to hit the wild blue yonder,” said the pilot pointedly, yet gently.

They hugged each other quickly with Melita saying: “Goodbye, Kit. Take care.”

“I gotta ask one thing,” Baloo inquired as the others entered into the seaplane. “Why is this place called Molta for, anyway?”

“Simple,” said Amante, scratching himself with a few loose fur strands falling on the dock. “Most of the time we tend to shed a lot around here.”

“That figgers,” the pilot said with laugh. “Thanks a lot, guys.”

 Allaspid lil int kollu – Godspeed to you all,” said Jordan. “And thank you once again.”

The Sea Duck’s crew and passengers waved goodbye as the seaplane’s back ramp drew upwards into a lock. Baloo, who was more than happy to be back in his pilot’s seat; started up the engines, taxied away from the sandstone dock, drove across the harbour waters and lifted up from the surface. Flanked by two of Khan’s Elite Pilots, the plane circled around the harbour once, the headed homeward east.

Watching the Con-Wing L-19 and escort planes disappear from sight, the two Moltese Guardians and Dame stared at the sky in retrospect for a moment before Amante said: “Well, Grand Leader, fellow Dame; it’s time that we got going ourselves. We have a service to attend for our fallen comrades and praises for the return of the Cache to us.”

“Do you think we’ll ever see them again, Jordan?” the she-canine asked wistfully, still watching the horizon and revelling in the kiss with Kit that made her heart swell with joy but now with sadness over his departure.

“Time will tell, dear sister,” her brother answered, placing an arm around her shoulders. “If fate will allow it, perhaps we will.”

“Provided he doesn’t call you ‘Jordy,’” Amante joked.

“It’s a good thing he never learned your given name…Rosauro,” Melita grinned.

“Lucky me. I don’t think I could handle him calling me ‘Rosie.’”

The Ducina siblings laughed as they all walked back towards the ancient seaside city.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                    Epilogue

 

Cape Suzette

One week later

 

Hmmmahh…” Katie moaned with unabashed pleasure. “This is more like it!”

The redheaded vixen was thoroughly enjoying a warm vanilla-lavender oil back massage along with Myra , who was on the other massaging bench next to her getting the same treatment, attended by two Siamese cat masseuse experts in a citrus-incensed room.

After their arrival back in the bustling Asia-Pacifica metropolis, the two archaeologists had a whirlwind media circus being interviewed by countless of newspapers, magazines and radio shows that publicized their exploits in the Sub-Mediterranean with the September Weed and a lengthy talk at the local university while juggling between the Cape Suzette Museum in the final organizing of storing the Cache of Molta. By the time they were invited to speak at the prestigious World Archaeological Society gathering in South Afurca two days from now, they were completely exhausted.

Under the suggestion and generosity of Shere Khan, they took in a well-deserved ladies’ day out at Cape Suzette’s premier day spa, Madame Cholet’s, where Katie indulged herself with the decadent South Seas Body Ritual treatment that started off with a spiced ginger-coconut sugar fur buff; a passion fruit, orchid and coconut cream bath; a saffron and herbal yogurt body wrap with a spiced ginger mask while swathed in banana leaves followed by a manicure and pedicure, now topped off with the massage for the last forty-five minutes.

Myra just contented herself with the simplistic Moor Mud Wrap prior to the pedicure, manicure and massage, saying that it reminded her of home.

“If this is how you academics live,” murmured the Aridian blissfully, “I’d definitely quit my government job for this, Dodd.”

“It has its moments, Foxworthy. Oh, yeah…a little lower to the lower left, please…ahh! Khaawp jai maak,” Katie thanked her masseuse in Thai before she moved on to the back of her thighs.

“Pity that Rebecca couldn’t come with us today,” Myra said. “She would absolutely love this.”

The reason the businesswoman couldn’t come with them, although she was invited; was because she was tied up with being their de facto press agent and personal assistant, plus almost tirelessly conducting her own business with Higher for Hire which had increased two-fold since their return due to the publicity connected with them over the Cache of Molta’s recovery. She even extended the courtesy of letting them stay at her apartment for the duration of their visit in town.

“Yeah, poor thing,” Katie agreed. “She’s been so busy with everything, that girl hasn’t had the time to unwind since we’ve been back. We ought to do something to show our appreciation. Got any suggestions, Myra?”

“A card and flowers?”
            “Nice, but too traditional.”

“Well, I gave her those burgundy paisley pyjamas that she liked,” the brunette vixen propped her chin into her palms. Then she then offered: “How about a high-quality pair of silk stockings from you?”

“Good one, but I think it should be something just a bit more personal for her…”

“Yeah, something like…”

“Like…”

The two archaeologists’ eyelids suddenly widened with a notion that ignited in their minds and then wickedly smiled to themselves, followed by a knowing: “Hmmm.”

Turning to each other, they said in congruity: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Doctor?...”

 

 

 

 

Higher for Hire

Two days later

 

A gleaming silver Caraway Pacifica Airlines Flipper-Class seaplane shone in the mid-afternoon sun awaited by the seasoned docks of Higher for Hire as the group bade a heartfelt farewell to their archaeologist friends after a few personal group photographs were taken by them.

Rebecca gave the vixens a warm, sisterly group hug, all trying to hold back tears. “I’m so going to miss you, ladies. It was real…well, real!

“We’ll miss you, too. Thank you for everything, Rebecca,” said Myra . Today she was wearing a red jacket and matching pleated skirt, a white blouse with a lacy jabot and bow, a laced handkerchief neatly tucked into the suit pocket, a red pillbox hat with a rose décolleté at a jaunty tilt, accessorized with a white purse and silver rose-shaped wire earrings.

Katie looked elegant in a dark grey pinstripe pantsuit with double-wide lapels with no cuffs, a off-white blouse with lace-trimmed cuffs and collar, black-laced fashion gloves with a frilly trim and matching flat heels, ivory-coloured argyle trouser socks, a white rose in her left lapel, a oval-shaped sapphire brooch set centred between the collar neckline, orchid-shaped amethyst and jade earrings and her newly-permed hair under a black wide-brimmed hat with a white band. She concurred with her colleague while holding both hands with the businesswoman.

 “Yes, thank you so much. It’s too bad you couldn’t come with us to the spa.”

“Well, you know me, time is money. We’ll send the photos to you two the moment we get them. And if any of you two are ever in town again, remember; you’re always welcome here at any time.”

“Thanks again, Rebecca. That means a lot to me,” the vixen smiled, both sharing another hug. They would be sisters forever.

“I am missing you already,” said the Aridian archaeologist, now embracing the huge pilot. “You always know how to show a girl a good time, Baloo.”

“Bon voyagie, Myra. Look after each other, ‘specially ol’ Katie. She can be a handful, y’know.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time someone’s given me that advice,” chuckled the petite vixen with a wink, giving him a peck on the cheek and another hug before turning towards Molly and Kit.

 “Goodbye, kids,” she said to both of them in a group hug, with Kit’s head now having had his head bandage removed. “It’s been a real pleasure in knowing you. I’d love to fly with you again, Kit – when there are no Air Pirates chasing us around, of course. And no more stowing away on planes and ships, Molly.”

 “You’re telling me,” the little girl wholeheartedly agreed. “One week later and I still can’t get rid of the garlic smell or these dishpan hands!”

 “It was great seeing you again, Wildcat,” she said to the resident mechanic behind her. “Thanks again for fixing one of the tuning keys on my oud. Sounds a lot better than ever. It’s amazing what you can do with a butane torch and a nib pen!”

“You’re welcome,” the mechanic answered proudly. “You should see me what I can do with wrench an’ an eggbeater.”

Myra just laughed and hugged him too before she headed towards the Flipper-Class seaplane. “Take care, my friend.”

Then it was Katie’s turn to bid farewell to Baloo. Looking at each other for a moment, they knew they had been through a lot and held that unspoken understanding that only old and dear friends shared.

“So, where ya off ta after that big meetin’ in South Afurca, Katie?”
            “Once Myra and I have addressed the World Archaeological Society on the findings, I’ll be going back to my university to study the Cache for some time.”

“Sounds like it’s back to stuffy, borin’ campus life fer ya, Red.”

“Yes,” she admitted with a smile and sigh of relief, “but after the last few weeks, I’m very much looking forward to resting on my laurels for a good while.”

An’ very nice laurels, too…  

“So…I guess this is adieu for now, Baloo.”

“Or,” replied the pilot nonchalantly, “we can just say g’bye.”

She snickered lightly. I sure am going to miss you, you crazy buffalo…

 “Well, it’s been a pleasure workin’ with ya again, Doctor Dodd,” Baloo said, sounding serious and holding his hand out to shake, which seemed so out of character for him to be formal.

The archaeologist took his hand at first and then said: “I don’t think a handshake will simply cut it, Captain.”

Katie gently pulled herself forward and gave the grey bear a very warm, but austere embrace much like the hug she, Myra and Rebecca had shared just moments ago that he returned in kind. And for once, the businesswoman smiled at the scene without feeling threatened.

“Thank you,” she said softly into his ear. “Thank you for everything. Like before, this never could have happened without you.”

“Aww, sure it coulda, hon,” Baloo said genially.

She pretended to think about that as they parted and answered, grinning: “Hmmm…yeah, you’re right. But then again, it wouldn’t have been half as fun.”

 “Let’s go, Katie!” Myra motioned to her colleague from the waiting plane’s entrance. “We have to make that connection in Koala Lumpur!”

“Goodbye, everyone,” said Katie, kissing Baloo on the cheek, grabbing her carry-on baggage and breaking into a run as the Higher for Hire crew waved goodbye to the archaeologists’ plane that had started up; adding: “and thanks for the foxtrot lessons, Baloo!”

Rebecca looked at her pilot in confusion. “Foxtrot…lessons? But…isn’t she a…?”

Long story, Becky. Tell it to ya later.”

 As the redheaded vixen stepped into the hatchway, she turned back to the others one last time and looked at the two adult bears standing side by side. Those two are so lucky to have each other, she thought, and they don’t even know it.

“Take good care of my favourite pilot, Rebecca!” she shouted over the din of the snapping propellers, holding tightly to her hat from flying off. “Good men are hard to find these days, you know!”

The businesswoman didn’t know what to make of that comment, so all she could do was holler back: “Uh…yeah! I’ll…keep that in mind!”

What does she mean by that?

With a wink, Katie blew them a kiss and entered the plane with the door latch that shut after her. Ploughing through the Cape Suzette inner harbour waters after pulling away from Higher for Hire’s docks, the Flipper-Class seaplane lifted into the air and zoomed towards the cliffs. The crew stood there for a while, watching it disappear into the corridor until Rebecca turned to her daughter.

“Molly…time to go home now.”

“Aw, Mom…”

“Now, now. Don’t ‘aw, Mom’ me. I let you see Katie and Myra off, so I’m being generous during your punishment. Now go and wait for me in the car.”

“Okay,” she said despondently. Molly walked on a bit when she turned back to say: “Wildcat! Thanks again for looking after Lucy for me and for telling me the latest Danger Woman episodes!”

“Anytime, Mollycat.”

“Now, Becky, I know she’s yer kid,” said Baloo, “but don’t be so hard on her, will ya?”

“She saved a lot of lives, particularly mine,” added Kit, bolstering the defence.

Rebecca looked back to her staff. “Hey, c’mon, I’m not that much of a tyrant, guys. I really am proud of her for what she did back on the Prowler and the Sea Duck. That’s why I’m only grounding her for four more weeks.”

The flight crew and mechanic just looked at her very disapprovingly.

“All right, all right!” She surrendered, throwing up her hands to the sky, rolling her eyes and clicking her tongue once. “Two weeks! I promise!”

Baloo, Wildcat and Kit then smiled all around, feeling pride in winning a victory for the little girl.

“Are any of you going to come in?” Rebecca asked as she headed toward the office.

“In a minute, Beckers. I…I gotta go over some things with Wildcat on the Duck...”

 But there was a real reason why he wasn’t going into the office just yet. He saw Kit walk away towards the dock’s edge, leaned against a pier and staring at the sky, in search of something. It looked like the boy needed a good talk.

“Ah, what ‘bout the Sea Duck, Baloo?” asked the lion mechanic. “Is there somethin’ wrong with the defroster thingamabob again last time ya went to Thembria?”

“Oh, it’s nuthin’, Wildcat, nuthin’. I just wanted to talk to Kit alone, ‘kay?”

“Okay, fine. I’ll go back on that electric bathtub thingy. For some reason, it keeps short-circuiting every time I put water into it, ya know?”

“Whatever,” sighed the pilot, rolling his eyes in disbelief as Wildcat walked over to his floating shack. What is with that crazy guy an’ that ‘lectric tub of his??  

Lumbering over to the youngster, he placed his hand gently on his shoulder. “Somethin’ on yer mind there, Ace?”

“Oh…just thinking about Melita, Papa Bear. Wondering how she’s doing and all that. I feel like…like…I don’t know…something’s missing, you know what I mean?”

 “Well…that’s how it goes sometimes, Kit. It’s kinda hard to leave a girl behind who puts a big ol’ claim on yer heart. I’ve been there myself.”

The navigator turned to the pilot. “You have? When?”

Baloo looked at the boy with a small, sad smile and just affectingly ruffled his cap.

“That’s…‘nother story, Li’l Britches…mebbe I’ll tell it to ya someday. Not today though.” Slipping his arm around Kit’s shoulders, he said: “C’mon…how’s ‘bout gettin’ a good ol’-fashioned Krakatoa Special at ol’ Louie’s?”

“Make mine a double.”

 

 

 

 

 

Past the Cape Suzette Cliffs and beyond in the Caraway Pacifica seaplane bound for Koala Lumpur, Myra looked at her auburn-haired friend, who was sitting beside her at the window seat and adjusting her lipstick with her compact.

 She asked, “Now what was that wink all about, Katie?”

“What wink?” she replied innocently, checking herself in the mirror piece.

“The wink you gave Rebecca back there,” the Aridian vixen said mock-sternly as she cleaned her glasses, “about Baloo.”

“Oh…just thought I’d give her some womanly advice, Myra .”

“Well, I most certainly hope she does take it,” Myra said putting her glasses back on and then added at the same time with Katie, who had sharply closed her compact with a snap:

And the present!”

The two vixens laughed jovially as the plane headed off towards the horizon.

 

 

 

 

 

Walking back into Higher for Hire’s office, Rebecca grumbled under her breath: “I shouldn’t be such a pushover to my staff. I’m the boss around here!” Then she saw a medium-sized white box with a light red ribbon tied in a bow wrapped around it on her desk. Surprised, she came toward it and noticed an envelope propped up on top was addressed to her. Opening it, the businesswoman read a neatly handwritten note inside:

 

 

 

     Dear Rebecca;

    I know we said our goodbyes and thanks, but I just wanted to give to you a special gift of appreciation for everything you’ve done for the expedition and our stay here. Despite our differences at the beginning, I honestly and truly do consider us friends.

 Hopefully you will give Baloo that big raise and dinner you promised back in Molta. Here’s something from us that might help worker/employer relations a bit and we believe it’s your size (had to poke around your wardrobe a little, sorry about that).

Enjoy, take care and hope we will see each other again someday.

 

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Katie

 

             

 

            “My size?” she wondered.

            She carefully untied the ribbon from the box, opened up the flap, parted the wrapping tissue paper and looked inside …

            Rebecca gasped, placing her hand on her chest with her eyes almost bulging out of their sockets. Oh…my…gosh

            “Say, Boss Lady,” said Baloo, coming into the office at that very moment. Startled, she hastily closed the gift box flap, spun around and shielded it from his view with her back. “Kit’s kinda down in the dumps over that ‘Lita gal. I was just wonderin’ if we could fly over to Louie’s an’ let ‘im drown his sorrows over a coupla Krakatoa Specials?”

            “Sure!” agreed the businesswoman quickly. “Fine with me! You boys can go take the night off.”

            “Thanks! See ya.”

As the pilot was about to head back to the Sea Duck, his employer then tentatively asked, “Baloo? Will you, um…be free this Saturday night?”

“Other than those twenty packs o’ pickled prickly pears from Pedro P. Peña, Paraguay fer us to pick up tomorrow, we’ll be back by the followin’ afternoon. Why?”

“Well…I did promise you dinner and a talk about giving you a pay raise back in Molta. Are…you available then?”

“Oh, yeah! Ya did say that! Sure, I’d love to!”

Great!” she said quite enthusiastically, making a step towards him with an enlivened expression and clasping her hands in front of her chest. Noticing the puzzled look on his face to her reaction, Rebecca quickly composed herself, cleared her throat afterwards and then corrected: “Um, err…I-I mean, good! Meet me at my place around seven-thirty, okay? And tell Kit I’ll need him to baby-sit Molly that night, too. I’ll pay him extra for it.”

“Okay, you got it.”

“Oh, and Baloo…your best outfit on, please. Tie included.”

“Aww, c’mon!

“Sorry – no good suit or no generous shaboozies next payday. And I mean it.”

“All right, all right,” he sighed dejectedly, “best duds on Saturday night, got it. Just hope you gotcher best threads on too, Beckers.”

 Muttering incoherently as he went down to the dock, Baloo was soon back to his good-natured self when he tossed to Kit the seaplane’s ignition keys to him, saying: “Pull chocks! Miz Manager’s just gave us the green light fer Louie’s an’ yer pilotin’ us there, Ace!”

The navigator caught them with delight. “Yes, sir!Finally – he trusts me with the Duck!

Rebecca looked on from the doorway as her flight crew prepared to go off to the island nightclub, holding her briefcase in one hand and her present under the other arm, while closing up business for the day. She briefly glimpsed at the gift box and gave a sultry smirk as she strutted to her car with an overly-confident thought:

 Get my best threads on, too’? Oh, you can bet your sweet Sea Duck on it, Fly Boy...

 

 

 

 

 “I said it before, an’ I’ll say it again – I absolutely hate wearin’ fancy clothes!” Baloo complained as he and Kit entered the glass elevator up to their employer’s apartment that Saturday evening. “Man, the things I do fer money, I’ll never understand! An’ refresh my memory…howja talked me inta bringin’ this here yeller rose bouquet, anyway?”

“You look fine, Baloo,” Kit told him. The pilot was wearing the very same bomber jacket, blue blazer, dress shirt and polka-dot tie that he wore on that evening out with Katie. “Besides, roses always add a very nice touch to any date.”

And for a guy whining about it, you sure got all excited in getting showered, powdered and flowered up for over a good hour for tonight...

“It ain’t no date, Ace. It’s only me an’ the Boss Lady talkin’ ‘bout my new raise, that’s all.”

“Oh? Then how come before we took off for that Paraguayan cargo run yesterday morning I overheard her booking an all-day appointment for today at Madame Cholet’s Spa for something called a South Seas Body Ritual treatment? That’s definitely something women must do when they got a big date coming up,” said the young navigator while they stepped out of the elevator on Rebecca’s apartment floor and walked to her door. “And you know very well Becky rarely takes Saturdays off.”

“Aw, mebbe she needed a manicure or somethin’.”

Kit pressed the doorbell and just shook his head disbelievingly. Boy, you can be so dense sometimes…

“Look…” Baloo explained for the umpteenth time, “we’re just gonna have some chow, talk ‘bout my raise, mebbe have a coupla laughs an’ I’ll take ‘er back home. No date here, partner.”

“I’ll get it, Mom!” It was Molly’s voice coming from the inside.

Rebecca’s voice followed. “Check to see who it is first, Pumpkin.”

There was a click from the peephole, then the she-bear cub reported back by announcing: “Your date’s here!”

 See?” Kit said smugly, as they heard the door locks unlatch. “Even an eight-year old knows when her mother’s going on a date, Papa Bear.”

“Well, what do you know ‘bout women, Mister Kit ‘Just-Got-My-First-Kiss’ Cloudkicker?”

Kit was about to retort when Molly, clad in her white cotton flannel pyjamas patterned with tiny rosebuds, heart-shaped buttons and a violet scalloped butterfly lace-trimmed collar; had opened the door and gave both of them an affectionate embrace after they entered inside.

“Hi, Kit…hi, Baloo! Wow! Are those roses for Mom?”

“No, Cupcake,” said the pilot sarcastically. “Me an’ Kit decided to become florists an’ we’re makin’ a delivery.”

“Oh, goody! Mom absolutely loves yellow tea roses – oops!” Molly covered her mouth and slightly blushed in embarrassment, as if she had leaked out a secret.

 Baloo looked suspiciously at Kit, but he just shrugged. Wanting to play nice with the little girl, Baloo generously pulled out a rose from the garland and presented it towards her with his best smile.

“Here ya go, sweetheart. One fer you, too.”

Her eyes widened as he presented her with the flower. “Oh, thank you! Thank you so much, Baloo!” she said as she took it, giving him another big hug with a kiss on the cheek. Then he picked up Molly and playfully twirled her around a bit, which she squealed and giggled gleefully, still holding the rose.

“Hey, hey, never met a gal yet that didn’t like to get flowers, I always say!”

“Careful, Baloo,” Kit ribbed him with a laugh as the big bear put her back down. “Wouldn’t want to get the lady boss all jealous in seeing you flirting with a…younger woman in her apartment before a date! Not to mention it’s with her own daughter, too! Talk about robbing the cradle!”

Molly giggled again.

Aw, fer cryin’ out loud, you two! Fer the last time, me an’ Becky ain’t goin’ on no –!”

Just then, he heard his employer’s footsteps softly walk into the living room from behind asking him: “Baloo, can you help me for a minute?”

“Sure, Becky, I…” he began as he turned around, then stopped and looked at her...

Rebecca wore a glamorous silver-white sequined cocktail dress with double straps hanging on her bare shoulders, a boldly low-cut neckline – which made her momentarily wish she had some cleavage to show for it – and backline with fringes running underneath her bust and at the hemline trailing high above her knees that glittered in the light, filling out her figure very nicely. Wearing the exotic scent of Orient Empress, her hair braided into a sublime French crown held in place with pearlescent-beaded hairpins all around and face exquisitely made up, she also had on gold loop earrings, golden Art Deco-etched bracelets and a tiny silver-chain anklet around her left ankle.

Sensuously sashaying towards him, the businesswoman was holding a gold chain necklace in one hand that she presented to the speechless pilot.

“Rebecca!” said Baloo, finally finding his voice. “W-w-where’d ya get a dress like that from?”

“Oh…” the she-bear cooed a bit seductively under her eyelashes, “some very good friends gave it to me, as a gift. Can you hook this necklace for me, please?”

Whoa…some friends...

“Uh, yeah…sure, sure,” he said dumbly, gently tucking the rose bouquet underneath one arm while doing the requested task at hand.

“Honestly, I was kind of surprised myself at first when I saw it too, but I really love it!” she gushed after he had finished hooking the necklace delicately around her neck, then pirouetting once that made the sparkling fringes on her dress swish teasingly about and struck a simple pose before asking him: “You?”

“It’s…it’s you, Becky. Really, it is.” Man oh man, it is ever

“Thank you,” Rebecca simpered, her heart racing rapturously. I was so hoping you’d say that, Fly Boy...

“Yellow tea roses?” she then said, noticing the flowers with a brightened face. The she-bear took them from the large pilot’s hands right into her arms, closed her eyes and inhaled the luscious fragrance intensely. “Mmmm…for me? How sweet…uh, thoughtful you are!”  

“I-I-I…ahh,” Baloo blushed boyishly. “T-th-that was…um, Kit’s idea.”

“Well, thank you very much, honey,” said their employer, planting a kiss on the youngster’s forehead. “Maybe I’ll work on giving you a raise as well.”

“All right! Thanks, Rebecca!”

Psst!” whispered Molly to Kit. “Why are you taking all the credit for? It was my idea!”

Quiet, Molly,” hushed the young bear with a playful wink. “They don’t have to know that – right?

Ohhh,” she smiled, getting it all of the sudden. “I guess not.”

“I’ll get these in some water and we’ll be on our way,” said the businesswoman as she strolled towards the kitchen with the roses.

Kit and Molly just gave knowing smirks at the now-perplexed grey bear, who gulped nervously: “A-a-alright. It…it-itsa…d-d-date…sorta...”

 Baloo looked at Rebecca again, who happily hummed a little tune in the kitchen as she arranged the bouquet in a decorative vase on a table. It reminded him the time they went out to Louie’s on her first visit to the place, wearing that flowing magenta strapless evening gown – pretending it wasn’t a real “date” – and how relaxed and alluring she looked then as she did right now, seeing her more than just his employer and friend, but…as a woman.

I gotta admit… she does look real gorgeous tonight…

Coming back from the kitchen, Rebecca had then grabbed her car keys and white clutch purse with a rhinestone-embedded floral appliqué on one corner. En route to the foyer where the pilot was waiting, she gave some instructions to Kit.

“Now, Molly’s already had her dinner and bath. Make sure she gets into bed by eight exactly and don’t let her get any Frosty Pep, either.”

“Gotcha, boss.”

“Good! There’s plenty in the fridge and we should be back between, oh…ten-thirty and eleven, I think. Good night, Molly,” she said, bending down and giving a peck on her daughter’s cheek. “Remember – in bed by eight. And absolutely no con jobs on Kit to stay up a bit longer or drive him crazy, you little trickster.”

“Yes, Mom, I promise. ‘Bye!”

“Nighty-night, Papa Bear.” Don’t try to mix too much business with pleasure tonight, you big lug.

“See ya later, Li’l Britches, Molly,” said Baloo nonchalantly, offering his arm to her out of courtesy, which Rebecca affably slipped her arm into. And for some reason, each felt their pulse quicken without registering it outwardly.

“By the way, mister, you look very presentable tonight,” she said admiringly as they headed out the apartment and toward the elevator with her tracing a finger along his arm, “especially in that bomber jacket.”

 And I swear, that silly bowtie’s starting to grow on me.

“Thanks…uh, where we’re goin’, anyway?”

“The Copabanana.”

“Dinin’ an’ dancin’? I…I thought we were just gonna talk ‘bout my raise, Becky.”

“Oh, we are, Fly Boy. Honestly. But I’ve heard that Jane Bunny and her Spirits of Habana have extended their engagement there and they say they’re a hot ticket. And I’m thinking about a partnership with you as well.”

Baloo looked uneasily at Rebecca over those words as she pressed the down button. “P-p-partnership?? Wha…what k-k-kinda partnership are we talkin’ ‘bout here, Boss Lady?”

“The one with Higher for Hire, of course, silly. You’ve been taking on some responsibilities with great interest lately, Baloo, and I’d like to include it with the raise. Perhaps a serious discussion about a joint ownership of the Duck as well, hmm?”

The grey bear found this proposition intriguing. Long ago, he was bitterly opposed to having had lost his business and plane to the businesswoman and definitely would have balked even at the idea of sharing the Sea Duck with anybody period, let alone her of all the people…

And he couldn’t understand why his employer was being so nice and generous to him since coming back from their recent Sub-Mediterranean adventure. But he really liked it and besides, as the way he saw it now, owning half of his “baby” was better than not at all.

“A joint ownership of the Duck, ya say, huh? Sounds kinda…interestin’.”

            “Uh-huh. We can talk all about it and dance at the same time, if you like. But…we don’t really have to dance at all…if you don’t want to.”

“Hey, y’know me, Beck,” Baloo grinned at her when they stepped into the opened elevator. “I love to dance.”

With the doors closing, Rebecca demurely smiled back. “I…I know.”

The two young bears had watched everything from the opened apartment doorway with bemused, if not endorsing smiles and slapped each others’ palms with low-fives.

“Do you think they’ll do much talking on the dance floor, Molly?” Kit asked.

“Maybe, maybe not,” she grinned in response. “But it’s nice to let those two kids get out every now and then.”

 

END

 

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