The Chronicles of an International Kiwi of Mystery:
The Misadventures Begin
Don't even think about going over that wall! called out Sister Mary Anne. The chipmunk in question froze mid-leap from an oak tree and crashed back down to the ground. Not the most graceful of landings, the nun thought, as the child stood up while rubbing her sore knees. The sister was a rather softhearted woman by nature, but when it can to this particular child, she found herself all too ready to lock the little scoundrel up. It was not that the girl was bad, just taxing. And an escape artist.
The bell rang to signal the end of recess, and the children lined up to process back into the old building. Originally built as an early Gothic church, the blocky structure had been converted into an orphanage, called Bless the Children, just after the Industrial revolution, when it was no longer considered 'acceptable' to use orphans as cheap labor. The chipmunk in question, self-proclaimed 'Rascal', looked longingly at the rooftops poking up over the granite walls before running to join the rest of the girls.
Rascal avoided the sister on her way back into the building, but softly muttered something under her breath that would have gotten her a scolding and detention if the mouse had heard. Not that she was not going to get one for tearing yet another pair of stockings. But Rascal was not going to waste time changing for Latin class. Why bother, when she would be going through the air ducts during study hall? So instead she marched down the stone halls of the ancient building, trying to ignore the snickering of the other girls in line.
As the afternoon rolled around, it seemed to take forever for Sister Mary Catherine to fall asleep at her desk. The other girls spent time passing notes about which boys were the cutest or how itching their mandatory wool jumpers were. Neither topic interested her much, so the chipmunk had flown a paper airplane at the sister's habit during the beginning of class, and was presently standing in the corner as the elderly squirrel started a steady rhythm of snoring. Peeking over her shoulder, Rascal saw that no one was watching her. It was now or never; so which practiced ease, she inched her way behind the display board, to a small vent. It was loose, and gently popped out and back into place without so much as a squeal.
The summer air was muggy in the garden where she emerged, covered in dust. Not really worried about her appearance, Rascal only paused long enough to scan the area for a telltale black habit. Everyone was inside, and a glance at the windows revealed that no bored student was going to give her away. She inched along to the back of building, until she came to where outer wall met with the wall she was pressed up against. There was a row of magnolia bushes there that hid a hole Rascal had dug some time ago, and none of the grounds keepers seemed to have discovered yet. It was becoming a tight fit after some recent growth spurts, but she was still small enough to wriggle her way through.
The orphanage was in the older part of the city, so when Rascal squeezed out of the hole, she ended up on a narrow, one-way road, behind a large mailbox that had been quite useful in disguising the other side of her escape rout. The difficult part of her journey was over, now there was just the little part about keeping from being discovered before she could put some distance between herself and the old school. She stayed close to the shadows until the school was out of sight and the freedom of city was before her.
The city steamed in the heat and humidity, but to Rascal it was a breath of fresh air. She sometimes found the sturdy stonewalls just a bit confining and wanted nothing more than to climb up to the rooftops and sit in the sunshine with the birds. The way they dipped through the currents of air made Rascal a touch jealous, but she could not blame the avian that they had better luck than she did. Not that her life was bad, but she did miss having a family.
This was not the time to dwell on such things, though. Not with the afternoon open to exploration and harassing tourists. It was especially amusing to gives the lost one directions that would send them on a wild goose chase, and then watch them get so lost that they would end up back where they started. But first, she chuckled to herself, there was one errand she needed to run. Withdrawing the change in the pocket of her white blouse, Rascal skipped down the street toward the candy store. It was essential that she replenish her stock if she was going to take part in the late night poker games in the girl's dormitories.
I'm going to teach that Maggie a lesson this week, growled her herself. She's a twit if she thinks I'm going to let her get away with snitching on me about putting that dung bomb in the boy's lavatory.
* * *
While indulging her sweet tooth, Rascal almost missed the commotion that began on Drury Road, near the Oxford Museum. It was usually a quiet spot, frequented by high-class connoisseurs and art historians who tend not to make much of fuss unless there was some famous celebrity visiting. Wondering if it was just such an occasion, Rascal's curiosity got the better of her; especially since events within the orphanage were usually of very little interest. As the front was blocked in by a mass of yelling people, she decided to slip down an alley to get a better look by the back entrance.
She had not taken even three steps when two forms came charging out from the shadows and almost ran her over. Surprise rooted her to the ground, even though one of them yelled at her to get out of the way. She could not make herself move, and it turned to them to dodge her, which was an almost fatal mistake. The first pulled one way, while the second ran around in the opposite direction; and as they ran around either side of her, she became caught on something and suddenly found herself being dragged along. This eventually caused one of the two runners to trip and fall on her, dragging the other down with him. There were shouts of anger as the two argued and struggled to get back up to their feet. Rascal yelped as one of them planted a foot in her side.
Sorry about that. She looked up and came face-to-beak with a yellow kiwi. The other bird, a taller gray kiwi, shoved him roughly aside and yanked her up off the cobblestone. He had an angry expression on his face.
Look, kid, we don't have time for pleasantries, he said to her in a low voice. You need to get out of here before these goons behind us see you. Or, he pointed one wing at his companion, this moron somehow manages to handcuff you to him, too.
That was when Rascal realized the reason for why she had become entangled with these two during their escape attempt. And why the gray kiwi was with someone he evidently had an extreme disliking for.
Apparently the feeling was mutual, as the yellow kiwi stood on his tiptoes to look the gray one in the eyes. Who are you calling a moron, villain? And this is your fault for trying to rob the museum.
Listen, pea-brain, I wasn't
But he never got a chance to finish the thought, as heavy footsteps echoed behind them and bullets began to whiz through the air above them. The yellow kiwi yelped and dove for the ground, followed by the cursing gray kiwi, who careened into Rascal and knocked her over again.
Get up! We need to get out of here! The gray kiwi made a running start back the way Rascal had come. He had a hold of her wrist and she suddenly wished she had been wearing a pair of tennis shoes instead of the mandatory Hush Puppies that went with her school jumper. The masonry was slick beneath her feet and she found herself slipping some, but the dire circumstances convinced her that falling again was not an option. More bullets flew by her head and she ducked down as she continued to run. But it did not seem they were going to escape the thugs that were chasing them, especially with the yellow kiwi yelling at the top of his lungs from behind them.
Hey! Would you
OW! My tail
OW! Can't take
OW! Much more
OW! Of this
Would you shut up?
They raced along into the open street, but their pursuers did not give up the chase. Bystanders shrieked and ran for buildings. Some vaulted behind sidewalk carts. Had she not been running for her life, this might have made for an interesting story that night back with the other children. As it was, the chipmunk was not certain she was going to live to see her bed again. Bullets hit a fruit cart to their left, and pulp went flying. The running kiwi dodged to the right, into another alley.
Wait, you can't
Rascal started to yell at him. But before she finished her sentence, they reached the end of the block and the buildings opened up to the canal for the river that went right through Oxford. The narrow walkway was empty and there was nowhere to hide.
WHY ARE YOU STOPPING?!? shrieked the yellow kiwi. Rascal looked back and saw the kiwi pointing at three large rats in black suits, two of which were re-loading their Berettas while the third was aiming his weapon straight at them. The gray kiwi was searching for cover, but Rascal decided desperate times called for a desperate solution. She grabbed a hold of the two birds and jumped into the water.
The gray kiwi adapted to her plan quickly and tried to paddle with her down the river, hauling the yellow one up from drowning every time he threatened to drag them both under. The rats chased them along the bank, but the current was moving swiftly enough that day, due to draining excess run-off from a storm earlier that morning, that the three thugs were left behind as they swam with all their might.
Soon, a pier came into sight and the gray kiwi changed their direction toward it. He struggled up, only slightly hindered by his sputtering yellow companion. Rascal vaulted herself out of the channel and looked back for signs of rats.
I think we lost them, she gasped. The chipmunk would have liked to rest at that point, but the gray kiwi had other plans. He grabbed her arm and directed her to follow him down yet another alley. This time, though, he pulled her toward a boarded up building entrance. There was a small opening, and with a few tugs on a loose panel, they all squeezed through and crouched down in the darkness. Rascal twitched her ears, straining to hear any signs that the three pursuers had caught up and seen where their quarry had hidden themselves. The three remained silent, holding their breath, waiting to see if the rats would arrive and break the boards down. But, when nothing happened, they all sagged back against the wall to recover.
* * *
After what seemed like an eternity, the yellow kiwi stood up. Finally! We lost them! Lucky for them, as I was getting ready to give them a serious booting! Rascal gasped and the gray kiwi grabbed the beak of the other, disregarding the flailing wings of the irate yellow kiwi. Fortunately there were no sounds of the rats having heard the loud declaration, and the gray kiwi let go. He roughly tossed the yellow kiwi aside and the two birds began to bicker again.
You idiot! exclaimed the irate gray kiwi in a low tone. Are you trying to get us killed? They could still be out there.
They obviously don't know who they are dealing with, retorted the smaller yellow kiwi. Otherwise they would not have dared to attack me. Oh, my poor, cute feet! All that running!
I'm sure they would be trembling in their Italian loafers.
She looked back and forth between the two of them with a bewildered expression, partly that they could be so calm after everything that had happened. Whispering, just in case anyone was lurking around, she began to blurt out the questions that were presently rolling through her head. Who are you guys? Who were those rats and why did they want to kill us? What's going on? The gray kiwi snorted in response, but the yellow kiwi stood up and bowed politely.
Please allow me to introduce myself, young lady. My name is Kiwi. Danger Kiwi. International spy Double-Oh-Zero, license to kill.
You know, you might make a more effective spy if you didn't tell everyone who you are, Zero.
Quiet, you fiend.
You're a spy? Rascal asked skeptically.
Yes, I am, Danger Kiwi answered hesitantly. Do you think you can keep it a secret, young lady? You seem like you're a trustworthy citizen. He patted her on the head, and for a moment she contemplated smacking his wing.
Here's a hint, Zero. Not everyone is as innocent as they might seem.
But she's wearing a very nice schoolgirl outfit, the yellow kiwi protested.
My point exactly. It's the middle of the day, so shouldn't she be in school, rather than walking, alone, through alleyways and getting caught up in your stupid escapes. The gray kiwi looked at her, finally acknowledging her presence. How old are you?
Twelve, she answered quietly. Somehow the sharp look from this kiwi was even more disconcerting than when she had to face the monsignor.
My escapes! Danger Kiwi protested. Listen here, Ivan. I was on a mission to prevent a burglary at the museum. And I had things under control until your thugs can in!
They weren't working for me, you dolt. He sighed and massaged his temples. I know it's difficult for you to think about more than where your next cup of coffee is coming from, Bob
Danger Kiwi, thank you.
But why would I steal my own exhibit? Ivan finished pointedly
You're evil, villain. I cannot begin to fathom the inner workings of your twisted brain.
Rascal felt she had to break in, at this point. Uh, Mr. Ivan. Why were those men chasing you? Me? Us?
Ivan shook his head. It's Sir Ivan, and those men evidently broke into the museum, though whether or not it was to try and steal the artwork that I brought from Italy remains to be seen. It is an excellent collection of Renaissance and Baroque, though; all of it priceless pieces by some of the finest artists in history.
Not to lose the upper hand, Bob tried to poke holes in Ivan's explanation. Why would they have broken in, if not to make off with a few expensive paintings
I don't know, Zero. They started shooting at us before I could ask them, Ivan replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. An understandable response, after you got the brilliant idea of trying to stop the robbery by declaring they should throw down their weapons, since you had me in your custody.
Bob sniffed and tried to look smug. Not very good when your own men try to kill you. I guess minions aren't what they use to be.
Ivan rolled his eyes. Believe me, if those men were working for me, they would sooner shoot off their own tails than dare risk hurting me.
Rascal tugged on one ponytail, trying to absorb everything she was hearing. If he's a spy, then who are you?
In the most dramatic pose he could muster, Bob declared, He is the Evil Sir Ivan Kiwi, criminal mastermind and my arch nemesis! Ivan snarled in disgust and whacked the yellow kiwi off his high horse.
I'm a highly respected businessman, you dolt. And I am not your 'arch nemesis,' as you put it. You are a peon, and if I did ever consider you to be a real threat to me, I would deal with you appropriately.
Um, so how exactly did the two of you get handcuffed together?
Folding his wings, Bob shot Ivan a look. I was securing him to myself for questioning. He was trying to elude arrest when he realized my superior intellect had left him no other options. He was outclasses and running scared.
Is that what you call it? I would call it preparing to summon the authorities to report a 'breaking and entering on private property' and 'harassing a distinguished government guest'. Smirking, Ivan continued, I wonder what your superiors will think of that one?
What!?! I'm the good guy! You can't possibly think they would take your word over my well trust word as an honorable spy?
Let me think about that one carefully
This was all becoming a little much for the young chipmunk. She could not believe she was about to say this, but, I think I need to be getting along now. I have geometry homework to do.
The yellow kiwi nodded wisely. He looked at the girl through the gloomy light as she was wiping cobwebs off her arms and legs. This was no place for a child. The young lady is correct. As a hero, it is my responsibility to see you safely home to your loved ones.
Rascal stood up and finished smoothing out her shirt. I don't have any family.
where do you live, then?
Very tactful, Zero.
It's okay. I'm use to it. There's an orphanage called 'Bless the Children' by the museum. I should be able to get back on my own. Thanks for the offer, though.
No, no, no. Someone as young as you should not be wandering alone through this section of the city. I insist on seeing you back.
Excuse me? Rascal severely doubted, that of the two of them, she was the one who needed protection.
Yeah, great. But first, Mr. Danger, Ivan said sarcastically, I would like for you to unlock these before I sue for damages.
Bob blinked in a blank-faced sort of way. When he did not answer, Ivan gave him a suspicious look. Do not tell me you lost the keys.
You are so dead.
* * *
They're not mine! Bob insisted desperately. He was backed up against the wall, trying to keep as far away from Ivan as the cuffs would allow. It had taken sometime to pull Ivan off the smaller kiwi, after having put Bob in a sleeper hold. I borrowed them XYZPDQ. They're some sort of prototype that does not require a key. They only respond to a finger print. A sheepish expression had spread over the kiwi's face and he shuffled his feet during the admission. Ivan, on the other hand, was struggling to control that blood lust rage that would no doubt result in the yellow bird's demise. Rascal began to mentally run through explanations for Sister Mary Anne as to why she would have to be testifying in a murder trial.
Trying to calm himself, Ivan took several deep breaths and, again, massaged his throbbing temple with his one free hand. Bracing himself for the answer to his next question, Ivan reluctantly asked, Pray tell, whose fingerprint will unlock them?
The speed that the gray kiwi leapt on the spy and started trying to strangle him was record setting. Bob squeaked out a desperate cry for help, and, against her better judgment, the chipmunk ran over to the struggling forms and began to try and separate them.
You are going to be an ex-kiwi!
Erk! Gag! 'Elp!
Stop it! She had a hold of Ivan's left wing and was trying to pull him back, but he was stronger than she was and easily shrugged her away. Look, you can't do this!
Give me one good reason why.
Because then you would have to walk to the police station dragging a dead body behind you. The logic of the chipmunk's argument caused Ivan to pause. He gave her a dark look as she continued, That would look pretty suspicious for a 'respectable business man,' if you ask me.
After a moment of consideration, he snarled at her and ceased the throttling of Bob. The latter gasped for oxygen and collapsed down onto the floor; he covered his eyes to keep from being made ill by the room that was spinning around him. It was bad enough that he was chained to this boob, Ivan thought, but now he was loosing his cool in front of some smart-alleck kid. Trying to recover some decorum, he smoothed down his feathers and ignored the melodrama of his inept companion.
You fiend! Can there be any doubt of your true nature after such a ruthless display? Bob was irate, and probably also suffering from caffeine withdrawal. It had been also forty-three minutes since his last cup of coffee, and that had only been a quick, powdered instant, fix.
Taking her own life into her hands, Rascal knelt between to two and played mediator. It's obvious you guys don't get along. But arguing and trying to kill one another isn't helping your situation. She stopped short of asking them to kiss and make up, know that that was about as likely to happen as the nuns going out for a good time at a local disco-tech. But at least now they were sitting calming, granted they were glaring at one another with expressions that could have curdled milk.
Ivan broke the silence first. Fine. I can be civilized. But sitting here isn't going to help us, either. We need to form a plan.
First, Bob began dramatically, We need to find coffee!
No, what we need to do first is contact someone and let them know we are still alive, Ivan stated harshly. These cuffs are starting to chaff and I want them off. So contact that stupid scientist of yours and ask him how we get this thing off.
I'm surprised you haven't contacted one of your wretched minions to come and save you, Bob retorted.
Bob, you're really getting on my nerves. Bob was still staring at him. Besides, my cell phone stopped working after that dip in the canal.
Well, fortunately for us all, XYZPDQ anticipates such circumstances and made my 'Tele-Visio Kiwi Communicator' water proof. Brandishing the device in the air, he made a big display of opening the top, revealing a small screen and touch pad. They waited while he stared at the controls.
Why not try on button marked 'ON'? suggested Ivan.
Give me a minute! Flustering, Bob punched a series of buttons and the screen came to life. There was a purring sound and then a melodic dialing. It clicked as someone answered.
Welcome to the Secret Lab of the Bureau of International Spies. If you are calling from a touch-tone phone, please press zero. If you are calling from a Kiwi Communicator, please choose from the following options
You have got to be kidding me. Ivan sighed and shook his head.
If you have used the 'Flame in a Pen' and set your hand on fire, please say 'one'. If you cannot activate your 'Watch Saw' to cut through restraining straps, in order to escape from a mad scientist, please say 'two'. If you are falling toward the earth from 60,000ft and your 'Emergency Escape Chute/Poncho ' will not deploy, please scream 'three'
After a minute of listening to this, Rascal was beginning to sympathize with Ivan's feelings of frustration. Finally, he grabbed the communicator and began to shake it. Hey! Is anyone there? Answer me, you stupid kiwi!
Bob squawked and tried to wrestle it out of Ivan's grasp. Don't! You'll break it!
What in the world is going on? a voice said through the device as the kiwis were tugging on it.
XYZPDQ! This is Danger Kiwi, reporting in.
Double-Oh-Zero! You survived the museum attack! Tears of joy started to well up in the eyes of the brown kiwi on the screen. He wore a lab coat, only slightly scorched, and small spectacles perched on his beak. In his gloved hands he had two flasks that were emitting smoke, but in his excitement he threw them off to the side.
We feared the worst when the reports came in that there was gunfire within the museum! No one could find you on the premises! By this point, the scientist was yelling to be heard over the alarms and screaming in the background. Someone ran behind him with a fire extinguisher.
No, he's quite well, unfortunately, Ivan said flatly as he kicked Bob to try and remind him of why they had called.
Bob shooshed him and turned back to his conversation. I'm in one piece, and I have The Evil Sir Ivan Kiwi in my custody. He spoke triumphantly and Ivan smacked him again.
Glad to hear it, Double-Oh-Zero. We'll send some agents around to assist you. What is you present location?
Casting an eye around the boarded up room, Bob shrugged. I'm not really sure of that. You see, first there was some running, then I bounced down an alley, then we went down the river, and in all I wasn't really paying attention to where we were going.
Rascal interrupted him. There's an condemned wood mill on Whitehead Lane, by the river. We're in it right now.
My goodness! Who is this young girl?
Ivan had had about enough of question and answer time, especially since it was doing nothing to get him out of the handcuffs. Look, it doesn't matter. Just get down here pronto!
I say! Is there some sort of problem?
Well, XYZPDQ, Bob started in as casual a voice as he could. Do you remember those special handcuffs you showed me? The ones with the fingerprint safe-guard?
The brown kiwi stared suspiciously through the view screen at him. The Lock-o-5000? Yes, I remember, but they seem to be missing.
Ivan directed a look at Bob. Gee, you'll never guess why.
Oh, Double-Oh-Zero, how could you? XYZPDQ's expression was such obvious despair that the brown kiwi looked as though he was going to burst into tears. Those were a prototype, not meant for fieldwork yet! The locking mechanism still needs tinkering and I haven't had the time to test the structural integrity under explosive circumstances. If anything happens to them, I will have to start over from scratch! the scientist wailed.
By this point, Rascal had begun to notice hat Ivan was developing a slight twitch. Exactly what do you mean by 'the locking mechanism still needs tinkering? he asked in a deathly calm voice. Rascal flinched and prepared to try and hold Ivan back from the next attempt on Bob's life that was sure to follow.
Just that. It does not work correctly; only about forty-nine percent of the time does the clasp release when the operator tries to deactivate them.
Bob gulped nervously and Ivan slapped a wing to his forehead. XYZPDQ shook his head. Whatever you do, don't use them. And do not get them wet. That would be disastrous. Ivan proceeded to shove his head under a bag of sawdust and yell at the top of his lungs. Rascal casually turned the com-link toward her so he would not witness Bob guiltily trying to explain to Ivan that everything was going to be all right.
Excuse me, Mr. XYZPDQ
Please, just call me Newt.
O-kay. Does anyone know anything about the men who broke into the museum? What they were trying to do?
A stern look appeared on the kiwi's face. I'm sorry, young lady, but that is privileged information. It is unfortunate you became involved in all this, but I assure you that Double-Oh-Zero will see you safely through. Considering that the afore mention spy was currently being smacked upside the head with his own wing, curtsey of Ivan, Rascal was not reassured by Newt's statement.
Sighing, Rascal turned to Newt. He's kinda busy right now. But I think he would like to know any useful information you might have. I could take a message, and I promise not to read it. She put on her best cutesy face as she said this.
Well, I suppose that will do. Not the brightest neon atom in the tube, are we, Rascal thought. They cut the power to the security system, which is why they were able to enter the building with little disturbance. Fortunately, there was an independent contractor who had set up filming equipment for a documentary on the neighbor Egyptian exhibit. When he heard the commotion and the gunfire, he hid, but his equipment caught Double-Oh-Zero and Sir Ivan fleeing, as well as the faces of their assailants.
You know who those three rats were?
We were able to identify two of them as being on the payroll for a local crime boss by the name of Nigel 'Red' Squirrel. Very minor, small time player trying to make a name for himself.
By aligning himself with the notorious Evil Sir Ivan Kiwi! Bob declared in a rather loud tone. Rascal jumped, not knowing that he had even been listening by that point. Sure enough, while still disgusted, Ivan had stopped fighting with Bob. Instead, he was staring through the cracks in the boards that they had come in through.
Something about his silence put Rascal on edge, but she was quickly distracted as Bob took advantage of this reprieve to finish the conversation with Newt. XYZPDQ, please hurry. It's getting late, and we would rather not sit here all night.
Consider it done, Double-oh-Zero. Help should be arriving within the hour. Just be patient. Newt out. The screen went blank after Newt cut the connection. There was nothing to do but wait, so the three were left sitting in the dank mill, wondering what to do until assistance arrived.
Anyone want some taffy? Rascal asked casually.
* * *
I spy with my little eye something that begins with 'C', asked Bob.
The game was a bit boring, but as they had nothing better to do, Rascal was trying to be a good sport. The problem was they had run out interesting things to 'spy' an hour ago.
Yes, Bob, we know there are cobwebs everywhere. Ivan refused to play along. In fact, he refused to do anything that would accommodate Bob. It had become an uncomfortable situation and time was dragging on while the light was fading around them.
That realization struck a chord in Rascal; her brain making a connection with the amount of time that had passed since the whole ordeal had begun.
The sun's going down, Bob.
Yeah. Don't feel bad about being afraid of the dark, though. Everyone's afraid of something, even me. Bob tried to sound wise as he said this. Let's keeping playing the game, it will take your mind off it. I spy with my little eye something beginning with 'B'.
Badgers, replied Ivan.
There aren't any badgers in here, sniped Bob.
It's not the dark that I'm worried about, Rascal stated indignantly. There were scarier things than those that go bump in the night. She was really going to be in for it when she got back to the school. Not only was it really against the rules to be out after dark, but also the Sisters were probably worried sick about her. I really need to be going, she said to them. Maybe I could leave, as long as you guys promise not to fight
I'm not sure that's an option right now. Not without calling in some reinforcements. Ivan was speaking in a low voice, while still peering through the cracks in the door. This fact was not lost on Bob, either. They edged over to where Ivan was kneeling and squinted to see what Ivan was so concerned about. Bob almost squawked in surprise, but Ivan grabbed a hold of his beak and silenced him.
A good thing too, for not ten feet away was standing one of the rats. But instead of his fellows from before, there were four rather large badgers picking through the boxes across the way. Rascal flinched when she heard a trashcan crash into the wall not far from where they were hiding.
Oh, whispered Bob. Those badgers.
What are we going to do? Rascal whispered. She tried to ignore the fact that her voice had an edge to it that might betray her feelings of panic; it was bad enough that she and Ivan had to hold Bob still lest he start running around the room. We can't stay here, it won't be long before they'll find us.
The gray kiwi nodded in agreement and started to glance around the room. We need to get out without them noticing us. Maybe there's another exit around on the other side of the building.
Taking the opportunity to smack Ivan's wing away, Bob whispered, What makes you think they haven't got men surrounding this whole place?
It was an amazing thing when Ivan realized that Bob had a point. His eyes darkened in disgust as they crept to a boarded up window, only to confirm Bob's fears. There were two rats and a skunk carefully inspecting the various dark corners of that alleyway, too.
The situation seemed hopeless. Maybe there is an escape route through the basement? Bob suggested hopefully.
Doubtful, this close to a river. This building was condemned for a reason, one of which probably is that the lowest level is underwater. Shaking his head, Ivan put the final nail in the coffin by saying, Even if we could find a place to swim out, there's no saying it would actually lead somewhere safe.
Bob got that stubborn look on his face. Maybe if you called them off, we could all go home.
Yeah, and maybe if I sawed your wing off, I could toss you out the window at them. Rascal stifled a yelp as Bob tried to shout and pummel his archenemy. Both she and Ivan had to sit on him to keep him quiet, but it was too late. The thugs outside started yelling at one another and there were sounds of figures approaching. The hair along Rascal's neck stood on end and her muscles braced to flee away from whoever broke into the building first. Not that there was any place to run to. Fortunately, for her sake, she did not try to get off the floor.
At that moment, a spray of bullets came flying through the woodwork, and if the trio had not already been so close to the ground, it might have been all over. Bob yelled at the top of his lungs and Ivan cursed something that Rascal was fairly certain was in Italian, and she should not ever repeat in polite company. When the thugs outside stopped shooting, Ivan grabbed her by the collar and dragged Bob behind him as they dashed over toward the far end of the room, away from where wood was splintering as the badgers tore at the planks covering the entrance behind them.
They spotted the three fleeing in the dim light streaming in through the new gaps and opened fire. Rascal screamed, but stopped when her face hit the floor. Bob was on top of her, covering and trying to protect her. It would have been more reassuring if he hadn't been screaming, too. When the henchmen blasted through their clips and were forced to re-load, Ivan hauled the other two back on to their feet and they ran the rest of the way to a narrow concrete staircase.
We have to go up! Ivan yelled over the sound off mortar shattering behind them. It took a moment for Ivan to yank the door open, and Bob pressed Rascal into the wall as a fresh hail of bullets struck the brick above them. When the door finally scraped open, he tossed her through and charged in with Ivan, the latter slamming the door behind them. It was a flimsy barrier to hide behind, proven by the fact that more ammunition flew through it as if it had been made of tissue paper. The wall provided better shelter from the onslaught, but they did not hesitate to make for another room to look for a means of escape. There were very few options, except for another set of stairs that led up to another floor of the building.
We can't keep running up. Even in her tender adolescence she saw the desperation of the situation. We're going to be cornered on the roof at this rate.
That may not be an issue. She looked at what Ivan was referring to. Off in another room, there was a safe built into the wall.
Rascal looked at the kiwi skeptically. You can't be serious.
The expression on Bob's face was closer to panic. What if we get trapped and it's air tight?
Not likely, considering its age. Pulling the two behind him, he went over to the safe and pulled on the door. There was a rusted squeal as the ancient hinges moved reluctantly. Let me worry about the lock. And if all else fails, we'll contact Newt again. The sound of the badgers catching up ended any discussion and it took the strength of all three of them to close the door again. There was an ominous 'thunk' as the tumblers crashed into place. Breathing a bit easier, Rascal sank to the floor and leaned against the very solid steel door.
It almost scared the life out of her when she felt the metal reverberate as slugs collided into it. Bob squeaked and dove for the ground, but the barrier held firmly in place. Soon, the sound of gunfire stopped and was replaced by fists smashing on the heavy door and the lock creaking as they pulled at the handle. Rascal backed away in spite of herself, survival instincts fighting with the reality of being solidly sheltered.
They won't get through, Ivan stated in no uncertain terms. They weren't carrying anything with enough force to break into a vault like this.
Newt sent backup, Bob chimed in. Bob tried to sound reassuring, putting a wing around her shoulder. You told him where we were, and they will arrive and arrest these evil-doers. He ignored Ivan's comments about the efficiency of self-proclaimed 'good guys.' Bob did not take kindly to the slight, and he began to relate a lecture on the virtues of living a life dictated by all things decent and moral. Ivan sat in the corner, gagging, while Rascal smiled at the two of them for the first time since all of this began.
* * *
Eventually the deafening pounding on the door stopped. There had been muffled sounds of discussion by those on the other side, and Ivan had pressed his head against the metal to see if he could make out what they were saying. But he had not been able to make out anything, and, in the end, there had only been the sounds of trundling footsteps, signaling the badgers' departure.
Well? inquired Bob. Can we leave now?
Ivan still had his head pressed up against the door. I'm not sure. I really don't like the fact that they just took off.
Maybe they gave up and are leaving us alone? Rascal said hopefully.
Not likely. And I doubt reinforcements have arrived, anticipating Bob's next comment. We would have known if they had, and these guys would not have given up so easily.
A growing sense of apprehension was filling Rascal, and from the looks on Ivan and Bob's faces, she was not the only one. Then, why would they just leave?
Bob was looking around the vault nervously. Maybe they're waiting for us to try and escape. He gulped, Or suffocate.
I don't think so. Regardless, Ivan did not move away from the door. My only consolation is that the floor is solid, too, so they won't be able to shoot us from below.
I'm going to be in so much trouble when I get back to the orphanage. Rascal sighed and leaned against Bob, who still had one arm around her. He might not be the bravest person in the room, but she did not think Ivan would be up for reassuring her that they were going to get out of this alive.
What happened to your family? Bob asked, and received a bop on the head from Ivan for his trouble. What? I'm just trying to take her mind off of things.
It was really only my father. Mum died when I was very little; I don't really remember her at all. She was grateful for that sometimes, because it had been hard enough to lose her father without the memory of a lost mother as well.
What happened to him?
She shrugged. Not really sure. He didn't come home one day, and then social services came and got me. They said they couldn't find any family who would take me in, so they were stuck with me.
He went missing? By now, Ivan was paying attention to her, since nothing of interest was happening in the outer room.
No, he died. I went to the funeral that his colleagues at the university held for him. He worked in the Physics Department. She smiled in spite of herself. Newt kinda reminds me of him.
Um, is it just me, or is the floor getting warm? Bob was looking down and rubbing the metal with his wing.
Ivan's eyes widened and he jumped to his feet. They set the building on fire!
Aaahh!!! Bob started to scream and tried to run in circles, momentarily forgetting that he was tethered to Ivan, who reined in the hysterical kiwi and slapped him across the face.
Get a hold of yourself! Ivan ruffled through his feathers and pulled out a small leather pouch, don't ask from where. It was filled with tools, which he immediately began to use on the lock. It's much easier to open a safe from the inside, provided it's not rusted.
What!?! Bob grabbed a hold of Ivan and started to shake him. Why didn't you think of that before we locked ourselves in here?
Brushing Bob's hands away, Ivan continued to work, clicking through the tumblers. Because I didn't think they would be so desperate to get rid of us. He continued to fiddle with the lock while Rascal held Bob still, as the spy was hyperventilating to the point that she was worried he was going to pass out on them. But Ivan, good to his word, finished rotating the last tumbler with a triumphant 'HA!'
There was a loud 'clunk' and Ivan turned the handle. Everyone take a deep breath and stay low to the floor. They shoved the door open and crawled out into the room. There was certainly plenty of smoke, but fortunately the flames had not engulfed the walls around them. There was another problem, as it turned out.
Oh, crap, Ivan muttered. Rascal looked at the center of the room where he was staring and saw the crates sitting innocently on the rug. The timer ticking down to zero, with wires leading into the crates, was not quite as harmless looking.
They risked getting to their feet and ran for the stairs leading down to the lower levels. A wall of flame greeted them and they were forced to turn and make a different route. The only escape now was the last set of stairs that would lead up to the roof. There was little choice in the matter and time was running out. With smoke threatening to choke them, they made their way through the stairwell and broke into the fresh air below the red sky. Some how it seemed appropriate.
Sirens were screeching in the distance, signaling that the fire department was on their way, but not soon enough with a bomb ticking down beneath their feet. The fire escape proved useless, having crumbled away from the building long ago.
We're going to die! Rascal was forced to agree with Bob. There was no escape and she wondered if the nuns would take satisfaction from the fact that they we're right about her getting in over her head one day.
Growling to herself, she decided she would not give them the satisfaction. Ignoring Bob's laments that his illustrious career was being horribly cut short, Rascal looked around the roof toward a nearby building. It did not seem that far away
Let's jump for it! she shouted to Ivan and Bob. They both looked at her with a shocked expression. She pointed to the next roof over. What have we got to lose?
Ivan smiled. You only live once. Bob nodded, but looked rather uncertain about the distance. There was sound of glass shattering below them as the fire blew out the few intact windows that still existed. It was now or never.
They backed up and started running toward the edge of the roof. Rascal could not help but be impressed by the speed at which Bob was moving. He only needed the proper motivation. They burst forward with all their strength and leapt from the brick ledge as tongues of flame began licking at their feet.
Never in her life had Rascal felt so free. The wind rushing around her as she flew through air was like nothing she could have ever imagined. Bob's hand was gripping hers tightly, almost to the point of breaking it, but it did not matter in those few seconds that she soared like a bird, completely liberated. This was worth dying for, she thought to herself.
All too soon the moment passed as she saw the wall in front of her fast approaching. At the last second, she reached out her hands, and Bob lost his grip on her. He cried out, but it was too late. Ivan caught the ledge, and he and Bob were safe, but Rascal smacked into the brick just below and was dazed. She scrambled for a holding, felt her hands scrape across an outcrop, but could not make her fingers grip it. As if moving in slow motion, there was the sensation of starting to drop, but it was cut short as her blouse tightened around her throat. She glanced up and saw Bob clutching her collar, and Ivan gripping him around the waist as they worked together to pull her up. Wrapping one of her arms over his shoulders, Bob steadied Rascal's wavering form as she threatened to pitch forward.
Quick! Run for the escape ladder! Wasting no time with sentimentality, Ivan took a hold of her other arm and they ran for the other side of the building. There was a crashing 'BOOM' behind then, announcing that the explosives had detonated and they only had a few moments before it would become clear as to whether or not the structure they were currently standing on had been damaged.
The procession down the metal ladder must have been interesting to observe from the ground, as the two kiwis tried to climb over one another, Ivan 'accidentally' elbowing Bob every so often, who would retaliate by trying to boot Ivan off. After the second time of almost plummeting to their death, Bob realized this would not be a good thing to do while he was still linked to the 'fiend.'
Upon safely reaching the ground, some members of the crowd, who had been watching the buildings burn with morbid curiosity, called out and made their way over to try and talk to the mysterious individuals who looked as though they had just taken a stroll through a coal mine. Bob was collapsed on the ground, muttering something about never wanted to be more than three feet off the ground ever again. The media was circling them and Rascal was once again reminded of the fact that she would be in for a major walloping when she got back to the orphanage. Sister Marie Anne would be in a tizzy by this point, and would probably only hug her for two seconds before producing the ruler. For now, though, she took solace in the fact they were all alive.
* * *
Rascal sat on the ground next to Bob, idly dusting off his feathers; her own outfit so ruined by this point, it was beyond her concern. The small yellow bird, as bumbling as he was, had risked his own safety to protect her several times. Heck, she would be a stain on the sidewalk right now if he had not caught a hold of her up there. He was visibly exhausted, but tried his best to smile up at her in a comforting manner.
Before long, several black jeeps pulled up into the area and a helicopter was circling in the sky.
Well, I suppose better later than never, Ivan sarcastically commented as individuals dressed in military fatigues jumped out and began to push back the crowds.
What now? The people who were quarantining the area did not look as though they would just let the three of them go, no questions asked. Rascal looked back and forth between Bob and Ivan, waiting for an answer.
My superiors will be arriving soon, wanting an account of what happened, and so forth.
I don't care about your superiors, Bob. Just find someone who can get these stupid handcuffs off! After being shot at, almost drowned, nearly burned down and coming close to being blown up, Ivan was at the end of his rope. If I have to be connected to this moron any longer, I am going to kill him, prison time be damned, he growled at no one in particular.
Hey! Bob protested. No foul language in front of the young lady.
Double-Oh-Zero! Thank goodness! Newt came running up to the group, panting at the obvious exertion of it took to make it from a sedan twenty feet away. We thought the worst when the explosion occurred. The smile on his face, resulting from seeing Bob safely alive, began to fade as he focus on two things. One, Ivan was getting ready to try and strangle Bob for the umpteenth time.
Two, Bob's wrist was linked to Ivan's by the Lock-o-5000.
Oh, dear! This is awful! Then his face brightened as he focused in on the fact that they were standing there covered in soot. They're still intact! They survived through a close range detonation. Simply marvelous!
For a moment Ivan looked as though he would spare Bob's life and squeeze the life out of the frolicking scientist instead. Just tell us how to get them off, or so help me
Newt sniffed indignantly. Well, there's no need to get upset. I'll have you out in a jiff. Newt took a hold of each cuff and pressed his index fingers against them. But nothing happened.
Oh, well. This is unfortunate. Newt laughed nervously and fiddled with his spectacles. The color drained from Bob's face as he saw Ivan beginning to shake with rage.
Unfortunate?!? Bob yanked back on the cuffs to try and stop Ivan from committing homicide. You do what ever it takes to get these off, Poindexter, or I will be mounting your head on my wall.
Yes. well, um
Newt tried to think quickly so as to avoid decapitation. It will just take a quick trip back to my lab, I have a blow torch there
Mr. Newt, Rascal interrupted. I'm not sure what kind of difference this is going to make, but at one point we took a dip in the river, and the Lock-o-5000 did get wet. Bob gave her an accusing look. She just shrugged in response. I thought he should know.
Oh, that's not too bad then. Actually, it should simplify things. With that, Newt took Bob's hand and pulled on each side of his cuff until there was a 'snap' sound, and it popped open. Their collective jaws hit the ground as Newt casually moved on to do the same for Ivan.
You mean to tell me, Ivan started, That all this time, the hours of being stuck with this imbecile, all we had to do
The gray kiwi was almost at a lost for words, he was so pissed off.
It was even so bad that Bob was sputtering, But
you said it would be a terrible thing if they got wet!
That's because the electronics freeze up and the internal mechanisms fail, which results in the lock failure, Newt stated matter-of-factly. If you had been detaining a criminal with these and had gotten them wet, he would have been able to escape. It could have become a hazardous situation, if the felon was unsafe.
But what do you think Ivan is?!?
Do you know what I have put up with?!?
Rascal leaned over and whispered, Run, Newt. Run for your life. The brown kiwi must have realized the logic of her suggestion, as he began a very hasty retreat to the car he had arrived in.
Ivan hung his head while the scientist fled, shaking it slightly as he reflected on the evening's events. I can't take much more tonight. I'm going back to my hotel and taking a hot bath. Bob, who had been in a stupor since Newt's declaration, suddenly perked up and blocked Ivan's path.
Wait just one minute, villain. You aren't going anywhere. I believe I arrested you earlier this evening. He put on his best stern face to try and emphasize his resolve on the matter.
Zero, I'm tired and want to leave. But if it will satisfy you
Ivan turned around and faced the crowd of constables and media crews. He yelled, Does anyone here feel the need to arrest me, besides this bozo?! pointing at Bob. There was a stunned silence, as no one knew exactly how to react to such a statement. There. Can I leave now? Ivan did not even wait for an answer, he just made his way past the crestfallen spy and over to a limo that had been sent for him.
We'll just see about that
Bob scanned the area, and his vision rested on a large black hamster in a gray trench coat. Without a word he stormed over, and Rascal was left watching the two stalked off in opposite directions. She thought for a moment, and then decided to follow Ivan. Running up behind him, she tapped on his shoulder to get him to stop before he stepped into the black car.
You know, I think Bob might have been right after all.
Ivan raised an eyebrow at the girl and smirked. Now there's two words you don't usually hear in the same sentence. He stopped and leaned against the side of his limo. Please enlighten me.
It was a bit unnerving the way he stared at her, but this was a public place and he could not do anything out here in the open. She stood up to her full height and met his gaze. Bob knew that you hired those goons to rob the museum. And I think he was right.
Ivan snorted. Like I said, why would I steal my own collection and let Red's men try and kill me?
Insurance fraud, for one. My guess is that if anything did happen to those pieces, you would receive a tidy sum for their loss. Then you'd have millions and the artwork safely tucked away. She saw his smile disappear, but no further reaction. If those were even the originals.
He looked at her gravely, but made no attempt to contradict her. Interesting theory. But I was obviously a victim here; my life was in danger.
Rascal shook her head. I think your life was only in danger because of Bob's interference. It was convenient to have you at the scene of the crime, affording you not only an alibi, but also credibility as a target rather than a conspirator. But you did not anticipate having Bob show up and try to stop things. Those guys must have thought you double crossed them and wanted to get rid off all evidence that they had been set up.
I think you have read one too many Nancy Shrew mysteries, kid. He pat her on the head before stepping into his limo. And Bob wandering around trying to be a hero probably was also a bit much for your impressionable young mind. With that, he bent down and slid into the car. The door shut behind him, but after a moment, the window rolled down and she could see him reclining back casually against the leather. One more thing. You had better be careful. With an overactive imagination like that, you're going to get yourself into a lot of trouble one of these days. There was a look in Ivan's eye that gave her the feeling that there was something more to what he said than just a helpful suggestion.
The long black vehicle pulled away and left the chipmunk standing alone. Almost.
He won't hurt you. She turned and saw Bob standing there behind her. He had a determined look in his eyes, almost noble. I won't let him.
Confused for a moment, Rascal blinked. She then smirked at him. I know you saved my life Bob, but are you sure you really want to by my guardian angel.? Giving him a devious look, she continued, It could be dangerous.
His expression remained impassive and fixated on the limo disappearing in the night. You need someone to watch over you. And I'm going to be that someone.
It was a surprising thing to here him say and she tried to digest what he was telling her. How are you going to do that? You won't have time to go on missions and come back to England to check on me.
A big smile spread across the kiwi's face. I know that. So the only solution is for you to come with me.
What?! You can't be serious!
He put his arm around her. I am. After tonight, it would be dangerous to leave you unprotected; you've seen and heard enough that you might be considered a target for those who would want to use you against me. Rascal suppressed the urge to giggle, knowing that the kiwi was being serious, and more importantly, making a generous offer.
So, you come with me tonight, of course we'll contact 'Bless the Children' so they know you're safe, then we'll go and collect you things tomorrow. He smiled that big dopey grin again. What do you say?
The response was a loud 'whoop!' and she hugged him so tightly he began to turn a dark shade of red. This was the best night she had had in a long time, almost dying not withstanding. They stood up and Bob tried to compose himself, like a proper spy. He held out his arm and she gladly took it. Together they started to walk away from the blazing furnace that was the old wood mill.
Bob glanced up as they strolled towards the gray sedan that was waiting for them. The stars above were twinkling, and occasionally, drifting embers would float past them, blazing for a moment before going cold and falling to the ground.
It's a nice night, he said with a sigh, don't you think
Suddenly, Bob stopped short and turned to look at her. I have no idea what your name is.
Rascal smiled up at him. It's Tiffany Sciuridae. But you can call me Rascal.