Partners Against Doom
Chapter 1: Staged Meeting
For what was possibly the thousandth take, the refrigerator dropped with a resounding bang, flattening Roger Rabbit beneath its bulk. The fridge door swung open and Roger unfolded like an accordion. Blue birds fluttered around his flopping ears, chirping incessantly. Director Raoul called cut.
Atop the toon rabbit Baby Herman facepalmed. "What's the problem now!" he cried angrily.
His New Yorker accent spoiled Herman's infantile looks.
"Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut!" Director Raoul launched out of his folding chair like a rocket.
"What the hell was wrong with that take?" Herman grumbled.
"Nothing with you Baby Herman. You were great. You were perfect. You were better than perfect. It's Roger who keeps blowing his lines."
Raoul threw aside the script and grabbed one of the birds orbiting Roger's head. "Roger...what's this?"
Dazed, Roger could hardly see the director clearly. "A tweeting bird?"
"A tweeting bird!"
Raoul tossed the bird aside, rounding on the loopy rabbit. "Roger read the script. Look what it says. It says 'Rabbit takes clunk. Rabbit sees stars.' Not birds—stars! You're killing me, Roger! Killing me!"
Yanking up his diaper, Herman stormed off cursing. "For crying out loud Roger! How many times do we have to do this damn scene? Raoul! I'll be in my trailer! Taking a nap!"
Herman rudely shoved aside a woman in his way. 'Scuse me toots."
"Herman has the right idea. I've had enough of this cartoon. Everyone! Lunch!" announced Raoul to the gathered film crew. The director followed after the toon baby.
Climbing out of the wreckage of the fridge, Roger hopped after Raoul pleading for a thousandth and one take. Roger whipped out a frying pan to prove his point and banged his head repeatedly. "Plplllease, Raoul," he stuttered. "I can give you stars. Look. Look! Loook!"
Every manner of dizzying objects except stars exploded out of Roger's head. Soon rabbit and director were swallowed from sight by a trailer.
Among the departing film crew, Dani Sharpe could still hear the toon rabbit beating his brains senseless for the fed up director.
Dani shook her head. "Phhh. Toons. All the same."
She checked her watch. Fifteen minutes stood between Dani and her curious appointment with R.K. Maroon, the head honcho and sole proprietor of Maroon Studios. Even now she was clueless as to why the LAPD had sent her to a cartoon studio of all places. What was here that was so important? Why did a successful studio executive (of toons no less) call upon a police station for help?
They probably just wanted me out of the way and are laughing, Dani thought and imagined the officers and investigators back at the station laughing their assess off at her expense. She banished the notion.
Standing around wouldn't help her situation.
Dani left the confined cartoon set and went outside into the bright, blazing afternoon. Turning the corner of a sound stage she made her way toward the administration building where R.K. Maroon surely waited. At the heart of Maroon Studios Dani waded through a sea of studio workers and countless toons.
She had never seen such a variety of toons gathered in one place at one time.
Nearby, a cast of toon cows were mooing at a "cattle call" as though they were seriously rehearsing lines for an audition. In front of a sound stage a man was playing a saxophone, commanding a team of living brooms straight from Fantasia. At one point Dani swore she saw Goofy, but she didn't bother investigating. Most toons could not get to their destination without cracking a joke, or causing any manner of bedlam that studio workers were forced to resolve.
At twenty, Dani felt childish being sent by her boss to investigate at a toon studio. Sure she had loved cartoons as a kid, in fact she always enjoyed a good Looney Tunes slapstick bonanza after school, but she had outgrown the genre years ago. Dani's tastes had changed just as it did for most adolescents growing up. A yearning to aid others and inspiration from her father had driven Dani to enter a field in criminology right out of high school; unfortunately, her idea of making society a better place extended only to human beings.
Nowadays she couldn't watch a toon's antics without shaking her head.
What did a toon matter anyhow? They had no feelings because they were always happy and goofing off for the pure enjoyment of viewers. For example, unlike people, the concept of death was foreign to toons. Dynamite a toon, he'd shake it off like nothing happened. Drop a huge boulder on a toon and he would stretch his body back together.
Toons were invincible, enough said. No way to kill one had ever been discovered—at least to Dani's knowledge.
All in all the junior investigator didn't hate toons; she'd rather work with people.
But then why send me here? Dani thought again. I bet the station is trying to get rid of me because I'm a newbie and a girl!
Approaching administration, Dani went upstairs to the upper offices. On the way up she squeezed past a brown hippo in a frilly tutu that was a hundred sizes smaller than her.
"Oh! Excuse me," the hippo uttered, maneuvering around the girl.
Dani gave a rushed nod and ran up the steps two at a time. She found the elaborate double doors of Maroon's office on the top floor. The doors were emblazoned with handles molded into a golden M, yet another piece of vanity Maroon used to gloat his success. At the front desk she checked in with Mrs. Bloomers, Maroon's irate secretary with an orange Jiffy Pop hairdo, and was told she would have to wait. At the moment Maroon was talking to another guest, someone he wanted Dani to meet.
Dani turned toward the waiting room when she noticed a full length mirror propped on a wall. Smiling, she waited a few seconds and looked herself over.
"At least I look the part," said Dani. She definitely wasn't dressed like your typical LA housewife, or starlet.
Her usual work attire, Dani Sharpe wore a light blue, collared shirt beneath a black, buttoned down blazer with the sleeves folded at the elbows. Pleated, black slacks and a pair of low-heeled leather boots completed her ensemble. Her wavy brown hair had been cut short, but flared out around her neck. As far as physical build went, Dani was contently average. Being an amateur, the station refused to issue Dani any type of firearm; instead, she carried a folded knife concealed in her right boot.
Not that she required a weapon.
A fair knowledge of self defense was all Dani felt she needed. It was something she had learned well growing up as opposed to her friends who preferred shopping sprees, makeup tutorials, and struggles at catching boys' eyes.
A few minutes later the intercom buzzed, drawing Dani's attention in the waiting room.
"Mr. Maroon is ready for you, dear," said Mrs. Bloomers, primping her popcorn afro without a care.
"That was quick," replied Dani.
"If only Maroon was quicker when he mails me my paycheck late," the bored secretary drawled.
"Well here goes nothing," Dani breathed.
Unsure what to expect, she pushed open the doors to Maroon's office.
Another muggy afternoon smothered Hollywood like a woolen blanket on fire. Weather sections in the local papers estimated a weeks worth of boiling temperatures. Not since the summer season of 1943 had Los Angeles experienced a phenomenon like this.
Of course nothing short of bad weather could halt the film industry's epicenter of cameras, glitz, and glam. People sought entertainment. Film studios were more than happy to provide, especially where the allure of the mighty American dollar was promised.
The allure of money drew the desperate into the sweltering streets to cash in with Hollywood's elite. Eddie Valiant was one such soul who needed to make a living somehow.
Despite the heat, despite his headache, Eddie Valiant had nonetheless answered Maroon's call earlier. Heading slowly down sweltering Hollywood Boulevard, he wondered what exactly what that decrepit character Maroon wanted from a washed up has been. With a heavy head (and heart) Eddie just hoped Maroon was asking for the simplest of favors. A drawn out crime was not what he needed today, or ever again. It had been too long since the last case, a case Eddie longed to put behind him.
If one thing was certain about R.K. Maroon, the toon tycoon swam in dough. A natural business sense and his good relations with toons made Maroon Studios one of Hollywood's most highly respected toon production houses. The studio ranked only second below Disney! Maroon defiantly deserved the notoriety he garnered from throughout the city, as well as guaranteed bragging rights.
Eddie knew Maroon would pay handsomely for whatever favor he needed done, or so he believed.
He finally arrived outside the sun bleached archway gracing the entrance into Maroon Studios. Bold, Art Deco letters announced the studio and welcomed everyone from off the street. Eddie was easily drawn into the hive of zaniness. Studio workers passed busily by while colorful toons of every shape and size imaginable populated the studio's lanes and sound stages.
Eddie loosened his tie, then lowered the brim of his fedora. Navigating throngs of lively characters he kept a low profile. Some people and toons might recognize him as one of the famous Valiant brothers, a pair of ace toon detectives. Since his last venture into Toontown Eddie had done everything possible to avoid recognition. Valiant and Valiant was a title Eddie desperately fought to distance himself from. He harbored no qualms against toons; although, these days Eddie wanted as minimal involvement with them as possible.
The good old days investigating toon mysteries had died along with Teddy.
"No, no, no! Wait until he gets to his feet, then hit him with the boulder!" Eddie heard Maroon complain as he entered the tycoon's air conditioned office. Maroon stood bent over a moviola, a stressed out editor by his side churning film.
"Right on it, sir," the editor uttered and rushed out of sight through a revolving wall.
Seeing Eddie, Maroon waved him over. "Valiant, welcome. Been too long."
"Yeah, reluctant to be back. So why'd you call me? Do you know how hot it is out there?" Eddie asked, straight to the point. Admittedly Eddie felt blessed to experience the blast of a real AC, a luxury he could never afford. His own dumpy office was cramped and stifling with only a two-speed fan to keep things cool.
"Sorry," Maroon said without sincerity, "but your the only man I could rely on for...say how much do you know about show business, Mr. Valiant?"
"Only there's no business like it. No business I know," Eddie replied.
"Yeah, and there's no business more expensive. I'm 25 grand over budget on the latest Baby Herman cartoon. The rabbit keeps blowing his lines every time we drop a refrigerator on his head."
"Roger Rabbit?" Eddie asked, slightly intrigued.
"The one and only. A true king of slapstick whose been failing to live up to his talent with our recent flick," said Maroon.
Eddie had watched a few Roger Rabbit cartoons from back in the day. Though he had encountered a plethora of toons during past cases, he had never met the famous Roger Rabbit at face value. Beyond his cartoons, Eddie knew next to nothing about the screwy rabbit.
Eddie shrugged. "Maybe you dropped one too many refrigerators on his head?"
Sneering, Maroon adjusted his silken vest, yanked free a cigar, and lit it. The stench of tobacco was immediate. "Nah! He's a toon. You can drop anything you want on his head, he'll shake it off. But break his heart, he goes to pieces just like you, or me."
"What are you getting at, Maroon?" Eddie snapped.
The tycoon handed Eddie a newspaper off his desk, tapping the front page story with his cigar.
Eddie picked it up, expecting anything. "Seen cooing over Calamari with not so new sugar-daddy was Jessica Rabbit," he read aloud, "wife of Maroon cartoon star Roger."
He threw down the newspaper with a grunt. "What's this gotta do with me?"
"This isn't some chump job, Valiant, I trust you enough with what I have in mind. Besides You're the private detective, you figure it out." Maroon puffed out an acrid smoke ring in Eddie's face. The tycoon was fully aware how the very notion of a full fledged case aggravated Eddie. Sometimes he loved toying with the washed up detective.
Eddie coughed, chocking on the tobacco smoke. He always hated when Maroon breathed in his face like it was nothing. Scowling, he confronted the tycoon, shoulders squared and fists clenched.
"Not anymore," said Eddie roughly. "Plus I have no time for something as domestic as a sex scandal! Find somebody else, or deal with it yourself."
Maroon patted Eddie's shoulders in an attempt to quell him. "Okay, okay! Look at it this way, Valiant. His wife's poison but he thinks she's Betty Crocker. I want you to follow her. Get me a couple of nice juicy pictures I can wise the rabbit up with, that's all. And who knows? You might get a free trip to Toontown!"
Eddie hung his head. "That's low, even for you Maroon. I'll pretend I didn't hear you say that."
Maroon was persistent. "What's wrong with Toontown? Every Joe schmo loves Toontown."
"Well get Joe to do the job,'cause I ain't going!"
Again the tycoon tried quelling him and threw a reassuring arm around the former detective. He helped Eddie into a cushioned chair. "Fine. You don't want to go to Toontown. Nobody said you had to go to Toontown. I know what that place means to you. Take it easy."
Breathing heavily, Eddie finally relaxed as Maroon poured him a drink from a set of fancy glasses on a silver tray. He downed the liquid within seconds; the tycoon poured him another glass. Nowadays Eddie found a good, cool scotch was probably the only thing that soothed him—well a scotch and a nice skin flick now and then.
Eddie sighed, years of depression mounting like the fears of a coming atomic blast and death. "It's not so much Toontown, Maroon. You know why," he muttered into his third glass of scotch.
He heard Maroon sighing along with him.
Outside the open window Dumbo appeared. Eddie watched the animated elephant flap his ears in anticipation when Maroon shoveled a handful of peanuts from his pocket and tossed them out. Plucking with his trunk, Dumbo nabbed the peanuts out of the air with ease. He tooted happily at Maroon, then glided off toward a bustling sound stage.
"Adorable ain't he? I got Dumbo on loan from Walt. Him and half the cast of Fantasia," said Maroon, wiping peanut dust off his hands. The tycoon looked away. "Eddie, I can't blame you for being unable to move on, even after all these years. You work with toons your whole life, then you have one kill your brother in such a comedic way that he laughs over you about it...rough."
"You're right, Maroon. I can't get over what that abomination did. I tried the whole solo detective thing, but it never worked out for me." Eddie removed his fedora revealing a poorly thinning comb over. Messaging his brow, he moped away fatigue.
"Honestly I'm sham without Teddy. Valiant and Valiant Private Eyes is nothing without both of us. You have to find someone else for this case," he went on.
Maroon reclined against his desk. "Earlier I was exaggerating saying it was a hard job. Just felt like pulling your leg as usual."
"Nothing new there," said Eddie.
"Anyways I don't expect any old fashioned detective work. Secondly, I'm here to help you. Got a camera?"
Reliable old Dolores owned one. "No, but I know where to borrow one. What are your asking now? Spill it!" Eddie spat.
The former detective began feeling anxious. What did Maroon mean by wanting to help him?
"The rabbit's wife sings at a joint called the Ink and Paint Club. Toon review. Strictly humans only. As I've mentioned I need some juicy pictures of Jessica Rabbit, that's all I ask, Valiant," explained the tycoon. "I know as a lone detective you're pathetic."
"Gee thanks," muttered Eddie under his breath.
"Easy, Valiant. What I meant to say is you probably need emotional support, so I asked the LAPD station if they could lend an office flunkie—er—junior investigator to join you. The station was more than happy to send someone down."
Eddie was confused. "A junior what? Maroon—"
Reaching for the intercom on the desk, Maroon cut Eddie off with the crackle of the speaker.
"Mrs. Bloomers," Maroon spoke into the intercom at his secretary.
"You don't pay me enough to babysit, Mr. Maroon," answered Mrs. Bloomers scathingly on the other end."You don't pay me enough really, cheap bastard."
Maroon paused, his finger off the intercom button. "Lovely lady. She loves to joke from time to time."
Eddie rolled his eyes. He wondered if Maroon would pay up at all.
The toon tycoon returned to the intercom. "You can send her in now, Miss Bloomers, Mr. Valiant's new partner."
"Partner! Her?" Eddie exclaimed incredulously.
An angry buzz rang throughout the office like a foghorn. Eddie, baffled beyond belief, rose from the comfort of his chair as the double doors swung open, emitting the new arrival.
Dani entered staring at Eddie, her green eyes unblinking. Eddie stared at Dani, brow furrowed. Awkward silence divided the pair. They measured each other up with critical eyes, taking what they saw at face value.
Maroon broke the silence as he got up, dragged the junior detective across the room, and sat her down.
"No need to be shy in our company, honey," Maroon said. He lifted the bottle of scotch, swishing the brown liquid inside. "Drink?"
Pulled back to reality, Dani gazed up at Maroon for the first time—god lord what an ugly guy!
"The one and only!" Maroon preened. "Drink?"
"S-Sorry. I can't drink—yet. One more year to go," she hurriedly answered back. In reality she disdained drinking alcohol.
"Humph, the law," snorted Maroon and turned slyly back to Eddie. "Valiant, I'd like you to meet your new partner for tonight, Miss Daniella Sharpe. She comes...recommended from the LAPD."
Eddie was too stunned to believe Maroon would set him up like this. Regardless, he shook the girl's hand. "Eddie Valiant, Toon Private Eye—um—forget that last bit."
"A pleasure, Mr. Valiant." Dani returned the handshake. "And it's just Dani thank you."
Dani looked Eddie Valiant up and down again.
The so called detective was older than Dani, much older, but nowhere near as sleazy and conniving as Maroon appeared. He was a bit frumpy, short, and dressed in a dirty white shirt, striped tie, and a long beige coat. Judging by the thinning rate of his comb over, Valiant qualified perfectly for a future chrome dome. Overall, Eddie Valiant wore a perpetual frown.
Valiant was obviously far from enthused about their partnership as was Dani. A Toon Private Eye—who had ever heard of that job? But she could tell something else haunted Eddie Valiant from his agitated reaction at her arrival and his haunted expression alone. Of course, Eddie Valiant's problem remained a mystery all its own to the junior investigator.
At the same time Eddie was judging Dani. Other than her odd attire (she was wearing pants for god's sake!) and mildly pretty looks, he saw nothing super special about the girl. This Daniella Sharpe possessed the wide eyed fecklessness of youth. What aid could she lend during a case—?
Frown deepening, Eddie stopped himself. No! There wasn't going to be any case if he could help it.
Those days are over! He cursed at himself.
Maroon yet again broke into their thoughts. "Good, good. Now that we're all acquainted get out of my office," he said, nonchalant.
The tycoon yanked Dani to her feet and ushered the girl and Eddie toward the door.
"Hopefully if you like her enough, Valiant, you'll let her stay on board as your protege permanently."
"Protege!?" Eddie and Dani blurted together.
"Sure thing, but first things first. Get me those pictures for Roger!" Maroon ordered.
"Roger Rabbit? What the—? Mr. Maroon I have no idea what the station told you, but I have the right to renounce my services," Dani argued helplessly. She dug her heels into the carpet to no avail. Maroon was stronger than he looked!
Eddie allowed the tycoon to throw him out the door. "Fine, Maroon. I'll get you those pictures, but job's gonna cost you a hundred bucks, plus expenses."
"A hundred bucks! That's ridiculous! That's extortion, Valiant!" Maroon shot back.
"Oh, shut up. You of all people in Hollywood can afford it," said Eddie. "Take it, or leave it."
The secretary was right. Maroon was cheap!
"Alright, alright. You've got your hundred bucks. Just get going and I'll see you again later tonight," Maroon said, then slammed the office doors in their faces.
Eddie crammed his fedora back on and adjusted his overcoat. "This job better be worth it," he said, remembering the girl.
He regarded Dani. "Come on, kid. Lets get this done and be on with our lives."
"Just so you know I'm not all happy about this either," Dani chirped. "I don't work for toons."
"Good for you, but tonight you work for me," Eddie remarked and strode down the hall in the direction of the exit. He looked back to where the girl stood rooted outside Maroon's office.
"You coming, kid?" he yelled down the hall.
Heaving a groan, Dani followed after Eddie Valiant reluctantly, keeping to the old detective's shadow.