Disclaimer: Darkwing Duck is property of the Walt Disney Corporation. I intend no infringement, and I write this purely for my enjoyment.
Life and Death
Life and Death
"Nothing is as far away as one minute ago."
It had been the longest drive of their collective lives.
After receiving word of the McQuack family's tragic demise due to an accident while practicing a particularly dangerous flying routine, Launchpad was asked to make the proper arrangements for their funerals. Drake and Gosalyn had immediately decided to accompany him for moral support, and together they piled into their beat-up station wagon and left, as the skies wept a torrential downpour and sent trails of steam rising from the overheated highways around them. The choking, awkward silence that had followed during the 400 mile trip from St. Canard to Launchpad's home town had them very close to regretting the decision.
Drake flicked on the blinker and slowed at the intersection. A sickeningly cute wooden sign that read "Welcome to Pluckton" was securely rooted at the corner, surrounded by thorny rosebushes and periwinkles. He looked to his passenger for confirmation. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
Without an ounce of surprise, Launchpad didn't answer.
Miraculously, he held back a sigh. "Yeah," he breathed. "Here we go." He checked for passing cars, twisted the steering wheel, and drove in.
Pluckton was vintage small town fare. The outskirts boasted antique farm houses off in the distance, across sloping green hills that hosted an assortment of crops. Lining the winding, unmarked streets was thick woodland that created a canopy overhead. Sunlight streamed through the holes that the broad green leaves didn't cover, dotting the worn gray concrete. The town proper was little different from that seen on a post card, cobblestone sidewalks with old-fashioned black iron street-lamps framing either side of the narrow road. The shops and town-homes sported brick window arches and curling, hand-carved sills that seemed more fitting to belong around the turn-of-the-century than in modern times.
Gosalyn mused that the outdated architecture was probably supposed to be part of its charm, but the whole place screamed 'boredom city' to her. Of course, she wasn't about to let Launchpad know that in his current state. "Cute town, Launchpad," she lied effortlessly.
Drake scrambled to stave off the oncoming uncomfortable silence by readily agreeing. "Yeah, this is a, uh, a really nice town, LP," he chimed in clumsily. "Very serene."
"Not to mention small," Gosalyn mumbled. Drake's light blue eyes flickered to the rear view mirror and caught her gaze, giving her the visual equivalent of a warning shot across the port bow. She quickly cleared her throat and busied herself with back-pedaling. "It's really pretty, though. Um, y'know, quaint."
Drake's brows dipped down. "You don't even know what 'quaint' means."
She twisted her beak in indignant anger. "Yes, I do! It means, uh..." She wracked her brain for an answer, and came up blank. "Uh, it means...really old and pretty?"
He scoffed. "That was just a lucky guess."
Their latest attempt at conversation failed dismally when their beloved friend shifted to rest his elbow on the door without acknowledging their words, or their desperation to continue using them. He was in his own world, and despite Drake's best efforts, his patience for it was wearing dreadfully thin. He always counted on Launchpad to be the eternally outspoken optimist. For him to be depressed--and to remain quiet about it--wasn't like him, and his concern was quickly dissolving into frustration and outright annoyance.
Apparently, Launchpad didn't realize how special he was. He was going to unusually great lengths in order to bring the lumbering pilot some measure of comfort, and he wanted his hard work to start paying off toot sweet.
He admonished himself silently. More so, Launchpad didn't realize how special he was by making the great Darkwing Duck feel guilty for being selfish in another's time of need. Not just anyone could pull that off.
To his side, the pelican leaned his beak against the knuckles of his hand. "...'Lot's changed."
Drake was jolted back to reality, and then proceeded to thank the stars above. "What?"
"Pluckton, I mean. It's changed a lot since I last saw it," Launchpad clarified. "'Course, I haven't been back here since I was eighteen." His sapphire blue eyes passed over every building, every tree, every hill and road with a look of rueful contentment. It was enough to break Drake's heart. "It's been too long. I shoulda come back sooner."
Gosalyn straightened in her seat. Though he never hid his personal life, Launchpad usually wasn't one to actively volunteer information. "Why'd you leave?"
His shoulders rolled in a half-hearted shrug. "Eh, didn't think I was doin' my family any good. Who needs a pilot that always crashes their planes?"
She cocked her head to the side curiously. "Couldn't you fix them?"
The corners of Launchpad's lips pulled into a weak grin, and for what felt like the first time in ages, a deep, throaty chuckle bubbled up from the pit of his stomach. "'Course I could've, but fixin' 'em won't do ya much good without parts. They don't come cheap, ya know."
Drake harrumphed and stole a glance at his full-time sidekick as he grumbled under his breath, "Believe me, I know."
"So, that's why ya left?" Gosalyn asked, propping her elbows on her knees. "What'd they say about it? Your folks, I mean."
Drake shot her a pointed glare. "Gosalyn," he hissed in reproach. "Have some tact."
Launchpad tensed, the muscles of his neck bulging like a dozen intertwining vines. "Not sure," he replied tightly. "Never told 'em."
Drake's eyes widened, gawking at his passenger. "You never told your parents you were leaving?"
"Yeah, real tactful, dad," Gosalyn commented sarcastically.
Launchpad averted their gazes, finding the beige side-door paneling suddenly more interesting to look at. "I told 'em, just...y'know, not to their faces." He fought for the right words. "I...well, I had it in my head that I was a screw-up; an embarrassment to my family, so I thought it was best if I left before I could mess up any more. But, I knew they wouldn't want me to go, and I couldn't take the thought of lettin' 'em down again, so I, uh, left 'em a letter instead."
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I always sorta felt bad for that. I shoulda at least been big enough to tell 'em I was leavin' to their faces, 'steada hidin' behind some sheet of paper. Always thought I'd have the chance to apologize." He looked blankly at the tiny, coarse feathers covering his palm, and snorted mirthlessly. "Stupid of me, I guess."
Gosalyn's expression softened with an empathy beyond her years. "I'm sorry, Launchpad."
As she expected, he didn't answer, satisfied with staring through the smudged window. What surprised her was his slumped posture perked up; shoulders back and beak up. He leaned forward, pivoting his head to follow whatever had gained his attention. "Loopy?" he breathed.
Drake's strained eyes flitted to his right. Well, at least he was moving.
When turning his head wasn't enough, Launchpad unbuckled his seatbelt with a soft click, propping himself on his knees as he pivoted to gape out of the side window; his face contorted in complete shock. Intrigued, Gosalyn followed suit, her eyes darting about the scenic township in search for the pilot's quarry. Drake joined in as best as he could manage; whirling his head from the road, to the rear windows, to Launchpad, and then haphazardly repeating the process. "What is it, Launchpad? What did you see?"
The pilot's right hand leapt from the corduroy headrest, his long index finger pointing out the back window as he half-turned to him. "Quick, DW, ya gotta turn the car around!"
Confused, he gave another quick glance behind him. "What? Why--"
Launchpad's head abruptly snapped in his direction. "Just do it!"
Stunned, he recoiled as though Launchpad had slapped him across the face, and immediately answered, "Geez, alright, alright!" He veered the blue car into the opposing lane, the worn out rubber tires screaming from the abuse, as he heatedly groused to himself about being yelled at; and by Launchpad, of all people. "May I ask just what we're looking for?" he barked with a sneer.
Launchpad's stare was fixed through the windshield. "Loopy!"
Drake blinked. "Loopy?"
"Yeah," he answered distractedly, "she's my baby sistah!"
Drake gaped at him briefly, and then rolled his milky blue eyes heavenward with a resigned sigh. "Poor guy's gone loopy," he said to himself.
His comment fell upon deaf ears as Launchpad bent across the driver's side, rolling down the window. The mallard scowled, struggling to see past the leather bulk in front of him. "Hey, hey, hey! Move it, Launchpad, you're blocking the road!"
"Loopy!" he bellowed from the cracked window.
A low growl erupted from Drake's throat as he ducked his head under his hulking sidekick's arm. "Launchpad--"
"Loopy!" he hollered again.
Gosalyn hopped up and took position behind her father's seat to watch the action commence from a better vantage point. This definitely beat the previous 399 miles of the trip. She spied a tall, slender woman dressed in a gaudy pink outfit halt in mid-stride, whipping her head around. Even from yards away, Gosalyn noticed the familiar-looking flight cap and the wild shock of hair beneath it. She tapped her finger against the headrest. Maybe Launchpad hadn't lost it.
He saw the reaction as well, his eyes widening. "It's her," he whispered. "It's her!"
Drake barely had enough time to slam his calloused foot against the brake and swerve to the sidewalk before Launchpad vaulted out of the passenger side--nearly tearing off the door in the process--and sprinted into the road at full speed.
Frowning, he exited the vehicle and ran after him. It still occasionally surprised him how fast the brawny pelican could move when he put his mind to it. He must have had the legs of a Clydesdale to propel all that muscle and thick skull-matter that quickly. "Launchpaaad, get back in here!" he yelled. "What's wrong with--"
"Loopy!" Launchpad called out, charging up the street.
Gosalyn appeared to his left, easily keeping up. "I don't think he's listening to you, dad."
"Well, thank you, Columbo," he retaliated.
Startled, the object of Launchpad's frantic escapade turned, her mouth slightly agape. She had little time to register what was occurring as the speeding mass of brown leather, tan khaki, and pristine white feathers rushed her, scooping her up into a ferocious bear hug that knocked the wind from her. Though her face was buried in a musky bomber jacket that had seen one too many adventures, she knew of only one person in the universe that hugged her so fiercely. "Launchpad?"
Loopy didn't hear his reply. Instead, she felt the vibration of his voice resonate though his chest as he squeezed her tighter. She attempted to enjoy the hug, before she felt something pop that wasn't supposed to. "Bro..." she wheezed. "You're crushin' me!"
"Huh? Oh, oh, sorry." Launchpad released her from his bone-crunching embrace, laughing quietly. He then clasped her by the shoulders. "What're ya doin' here, Loop?" he inquired, his eyes sweeping over her with reverence. "I mean, I--you... The guy on the phone..." he stammered ineffectively. "You're alive?"
Loopy nodded happily, her blonde locks bobbing in front of her equally vibrant blue eyes. "Yep!" She paused, resuming the habitual chewing her gum. "Am I, like, not supposed to be?"
"Launchpad!" A mightily peeved Drake Mallard stalked towards the two similarly dressed ducks, Gosalyn trying to fight her way past his stiff hold. The corners of his beak curled down into the scowl of someone pushed to the limit of their patience and good will. "Launchpad, just what do you think you're doing?" he demanded irately. "I know the loss of your family's hit you hard, but we're supposed to be making the proper arrangements for their funerals, not badgering poor, defenseless, and unrelated women on the sidewalk!"
Loopy gave the vexed mallard a blank stare. "Funerals? Like, who died?"
"You did, " Launchpad replied earnestly.
She blinked and looked down at the fuchsia bomber jacket and matching jodhpurs with evident confusion. Drake found the movement comical, in the strictly pathetic sense. "Uh, no, I didn't. Unless I'm, like, some sort of weird ghost and don't know it, or something."
He rolled his eyes. "Oh, for Pete's sake! Launchpad, who is this?"
The semi-dazed expression Launchpad wore disappeared, and with a jerk of surprise, he pivoted to face his extended family; his hand securely resting on Loopy's shoulder. "Oh, hey, DW! This is my sistah, Loopy McQuack!"
Drake exhaled, shaking his head despairingly. "Launchpad, Launchpad, Launchpad...you deprived, deluded soul."
With a strained cry, Gosalyn managed to poke her head through the crook of Drake's arm. Her eyes bounced from one to the other, before she twisted her head past the itchy green sweater-vest and pink dress shirt to stare at his tightly-drawn face. "Well, you gotta admit, dad, they do look alike."
He batted the statement away with a trivializing wave. "Looks? Piffle! A hundred mallards look nearly as good as I, and we're not related!"
She looked away and grumbled, "Yeah, they don't have the ego."
"Hey!" Drake gave up and let the gosling stand next to him unhindered as she straightened her slightly rumpled jersey. "For your information, Gosalyn, being the superlative scrutinizer that I am, it's quite apparent that Launchpad and this frazzled woman are not related."
Gosalyn crossed her thin arms over her chest, her stubby pigtails flipping angrily as she crooked her head to the side. "Oh yeah? Like how?"
He returned her challenging glare. "It's simple! To the untrained eye--such as yours--it may appear as though they share a lot in common." He appraised the pink-clad woman in front of him. "I mean, sure, she's dressed like a pilot, has the same colored eyes..." He cleared his throat, lowering his voice. "Not to mention similar skills of observation..." He held out his index finger and pointed at the pair decisively. "But that does not mean that they're related! There's no substantial proof besides a few vague coincidences--"
"Like her name?" Gosalyn retorted calmly.
"--that can be attributed to almost anything!"
As they argued, Loopy leaned in towards Launchpad and asked, "Hey, big bro...like, what's he talkin' about?"
He shrugged. "Beats me, sis."
Drake pinned the landing-deficient pilot with a glower that could melt steel. "Don't call her that! You're not related!"
Loopy blinked. "We're not?"
"No!" he huffed.
She blinked again. "You sure?"
Her brows crinkled in confusion, chomping pensively at the ever-present wad of gum in her mouth. "I coulda totally sworn we were..."
Launchpad closed his eyes momentarily. "Look, DW, I know I was actin' pretty weird a few minutes ago, but I haven't gone nuts." His gaze washed over the thin woman at his side, and continued with a hint of disbelief, "This is my little sis, Loopy McQuack."
Drake tilted his head away, staring at them through narrowed, icy eyes. "Really?"
"Yes!" Loopy, Launchpad, and Gosalyn replied in unison.
The reality slowly sank in. Clearing his throat awkwardly, he regarded Loopy with a guarded, doubtful expression. "Sooo...you're actually Launchpad's sister?"
She nodded. "Yep!"
"And Launchpad didn't go insane with grief and start imagining things?" he queried further.
"Nope." The pink goo popped obnoxiously.
He sighed and gaped at the picturesque street blandly. "I didn't even know LP had a sister," he mumbled to no one.
Gosalyn ignored the flustered mallard she called her father and his attempts to comprehend the painfully obvious, and stared at the siblings, her fine ginger beak curling in confusion. "Wait, hold on. This doesn't make any sense! Launchpad, didn't you say that--"
"We know what he said, Gosalyn," Drake interrupted brusquely. "Now, what really happened?"
Launchpad shifted his weight and thought, his free hand making its way up to his flight cap. "Gee, I dunno, DW. I got a call yesterday, sayin' Loopy, Mom, and Pop..." His bill twitched minutely. "Well, sayin' they were all dead. I..." Suddenly, his eyes lit up, and he wheeled to his sister. "Wait a minute, ya mean Mom and Pop are alive, too?"
She snorted amiably. "Like, yea-uh! Why wouldn't they be?"
Launchpad swept her into another tight hug, lifting her into the air with relieved, booming laughter. Drake, not wanting to intrude on his moment (and secretly eased himself), focused on matter at hand. Interlacing his arms, he rubbed his thumb and forefinger across the base of his beak pensively. "Now, why would someone call Launchpad and tell him his family was dead?" His face darkened, punching his fist into his hand. "My keen deductive instincts are telling me that there's something amiss here!"
"Well, duh," Gosalyn murmured, looking away quickly as he glowered at her.
He stuck his chest out regally. "This villain could strike again. Come on, LP! We've got no time to lose!"
Hearing his name, Launchpad finally allowed Loopy to stand on her own two feet, his arm draped over her padded shoulders. "Aw, do we hafta go, DW?"
Loopy's jaw rolled as she chewed, staring at the mallard oddly. "Yeah, like, where ya goin', mister? You seem in a total rush!"
Drake looked at her, and summarily realized he was 'pulling a Darkwing' while still in his civilian persona. Deflated, he slumped forward as he searched for a reasonable lie. "We, uh...left the...oven on?" He pretended not to notice Gosalyn shaking her head with disgust.
"Oh. Bummer," she responded.
He grinned wanly. "Yeah. Bummer. Right." He motioned to Launchpad with his hands, chuckling uncomfortably. "Um, LP? I know you want to see your sister and all, but can we, ya know, go now? We left the oven on, and we need to go turn it off. Now. Right now," he hissed with a wide assortment of winks and nudges.
Launchpad strode forward and put a hand on his tensed shoulder, concerned. "Gee, are you awright, DW? You're twitchin' all weird like."
He bit back an animalistic growl, whispering, "We need to go ight-fay ime-cray!"
Launchpad's sapphire eyes were completely devoid of understanding. As usual. "Heeey, I didn't know you could speak Latin, DW!" He smiled with a child-like enthusiasm. "Ooo, hey, how d'ya say Launchpad in Latin?"
"Ignoramus," he seethed through bared teeth.
"Huh. Doesn't sound much like Launchpad," the pelican replied.
He dragged his calloused palm down his face, on the verge of explosion. "We need to go to work, LP. To work? Remember? WORK?" he grated out, his nimble fingers curling around an imaginary neck and wringing it mercilessly.
The proverbial light bulb finally lit up over Launchpad's head. "Oooh." The joy in his eyes dimmed as he glanced over to the blonde duck-ette. "Aw, come on, DW, can we at least stop by Mom and Pop's? I haven't seen 'em in ages, and..." He trailed off, looking down self-consciously. "Well, we got a few things to catch up on."
Gosalyn sensed the chance to get out of another excruciatingly long car ride, and leapt at it. Literally. "Yeah, dad! Can we, pleeeeeease?" she begged, tugging at his loose cotton sleeve.
Drake stared at his daughter like she'd grown horns. "Why are you so eager to see Launchpad's parents?"
"Maybe they can teach me the fly," she offered.
He guffawed. "The last thing you need are flying lessons! You already have a knack for destroying things while grounded..." His frown deepened. "Especially while grounded."
"But I wouldn't destroy anything! I'd be a good student!" she pleaded.
He glared warily at her. "That's what you said when you wanted to learn Quack Fu!"
She shrugged innocently. "How was I supposed to know a web-kick could put a hole through a door?"
"Because it was the first thing I warned you about," he retorted.
"Oh yeah," she mumbled. "But DAAAD--"
"No flying lessons. End of discussion," he interjected tersely.
She pouted. "Hmph. Fine."
Satisfied at his victory, Drake smiled arrogantly and nodded to himself. His eyes then fell upon Launchpad's beseeching stare. In a rare case of empathy, he went against his better judgment--and his own personal wishes--and realized that the big lug probably needed to stop by to make sure his parents were, in fact, among the living. After all, if he didn't, it could cause LP to become the life-sucking sponge that he'd been for the past twenty four hours, and he wanted to avoid that at all costs.
Sighing, he rubbed the bridge of his bill, attempting to massage away the beginning wisps of a tension headache. As was concurrent with his recent run of luck, however, it proved miserably futile. "Oh, all right! We'll stay here for the night!" he exclaimed, tossing his hands into the air. Launchpad's face glowed more brilliantly than the afternoon sun, and though he'd never admit it to anyone, that insatiable happiness etched on his friend's chiseled face brightened his own mood, as well. Launchpad was a great pilot, but eternal hope was his true strength. "But only because we'll be searching for clues to solve this caper!" he continued sternly.
Launchpad nodded dutifully. "Roger, DW!"
He looked down at the little girl still latched onto his wrist. "And you, little missy--no decimating of their house!"
She mocked him as she turned her back on him, grumbling as she trudged over to Launchpad and his sister. "'No decimating of their house'. Like I would...intentionally."
Loopy's hand slipped through Launchpad's arm as they both began walking down the well-worn sidewalks. "Come on, big brother, it's been, like, forever and a day since you've been here!" She continued to jabber on about recent events in her life as he listened contently, Gosalyn following closely behind and trying to nose in on their conversation at every opportunity. Drake stood, gazing at the meandering sun-baked road that led out of the town, and the lush green scenery that surrounded him. He sighed. "It's just one night," he said half-heartedly. "The city can't fall apart in one night."
It made no sense. Zip. Zilch. Zero.
Drake paced in haphazard circles around the cherry-wood coffee table in the McQuacks' sparsely furnished living room, attempting for the hundredth time to solve the riddle that was laid at his webbed feet. For the hundredth time, his mind scraped the bottom of the barrel. That bothered him immensely, in more ways than one.
The sound of uproarious laughter blasted from the nearby kitchen, in which Launchpad, his parents, and Gosalyn all sat and exchanged stories. The muscles across his bill tightened, his lips curling back to reveal a set of pearly white teeth that ground together in pent-up frustration. Despite the darkness of the rural spring night, the McQuack residence was alight with commotion and camaraderie. Heaven help him, it was driving him up the wall.
From what he ascertained, the McQuacks were all alike. They were all natural-born pilots, each gifted with a seemingly inherent flying ability that would stagger the average person. They all were level-headed and kind-hearted; quick with a reassuring smile, a pat on the back, and a perpetually good mood.
Unfortunately, they were also dumber than mud; not to mention louder than a jet plane, and just as annoying as any Muddlefoot he'd ever met. Maybe they were distant cousins. It would explain a lot.
Drake glanced at his jolly sidekick. The reunion between Launchpad and his parents had been a joyous, if confusing one. After giving LP's perplexed mother the Reader's Digest version of the previous day's events, the delicately aged Birdie McQuack ushered all of them inside and insisted she make them fresh iced tea while they made themselves comfortable. When he saw the way she fussed over them, he couldn't help but be reminded of Binkie. Try as he might for Launchpad's sake, he couldn't make that a compliment.
He hadn't been able to hide his outright shock when he'd first laid eyes upon Ripcord McQuack, the muscular ex-Navy pilot that Launchpad clearly gained the lion's share of his genetic code from, as he returned from the nearby hangar; his purple flight suit and exposed feathers smeared with grease and oil. He easily dwarfed his strapping son--a man who was thought by much of the criminal element of St. Canard to be a walking brick wall--by almost six inches, looking every bit the weathered, rough-and-tumble adventurer that Drake had expected him to be. The mallard then decided that his earlier comparison between Launchpad's bloodline and a Clydesdale was an apt one.
Loopy quickly proved herself to be just as much of an airhead as her older brother, and the constant smacking of her chewing gum made her far less endearing. Then again, when he'd first met Launchpad, he wrote him off as a pea-brained, needy pilot jock with no life, only to learn he was half-right. There may have been hope for the youngest McQuack, but he wasn't going to take time out of his busy schedule to worry about her. The only person in the world he would ever go out of his way to think about was himself.
He shook his head. Reminiscing was getting him nowhere. With a grunt, he began to march again.
Launchpad glanced out the open kitchen doorway as Drake's shadow played across the off-white living room wall in a repeating pattern. A slight frown tugged at his lips. DW was still pacing? Putting his drink on the table, he planted his foot on the thick support beam that held up the old-fashioned pine table and pushed his chair onto its hind legs, craning his neck to get a better look at his boss. "Hey, DW, stop wearin' a hole in the floor already, and come sit with us!" He balanced himself with his left hand as he reached for his bright yellow coffee mug with his right, raising it up for the mallard to see. "Mom made iced tea!"
Gosalyn leaned across the table precariously, holding out her own mug. "Yeah, dad, come on! It's really good!"
Drake dismissively waved his hand, his back turned to them. "No thanks, sweetie. Daddy's too busy thinking."
Gosalyn threw herself back into her chair with a snort. "Yeah, like that ever got him anywhere..."
Launchpad lowered the front end of his chair to the floor, propping his elbow on the table. "Don't put your elbow on the table, sweetie," Birdie chided mildly.
Launchpad grinned sheepishly and drew his arm to his side. "Geez, DW must be really shook up 'bout the whole prank call thing."
Ripcord sipped at his iced tea, replying, "Well, can ya blame him for bein' shook up? You were pretty shook up about it y'self, weren'tcha Launchpad?"
Launchpad nodded humbly, looking down at his fingers. "Yeah...I guess yer right, Pop."
Gosalyn put her mug down, clenching her fists. "Well, I hope he finds out who called you, Launchpad, 'cause when he does, I'm gonna go over there and--"
"Now, now, dearie, that's not the polite way to act, is it?" Birdie replied soothingly. "I'm certain your father will do the right thing."
She twisted her beak, displaying just how little she cared for that particular opinion. "Does that involve beating the tar outta him?"
"I'm afraid not, dearie," Birdie answered.
She slouched back, crossing her arms. "Darn." Suddenly, she jolted in her seat and snapped her fingers. "Oh, maybe Honker'll be able to help! He's brainy!" She hopped from her chair excitedly, stopping and whirling to face the others only as an afterthought. "Hey, Mr. an' Mrs. McQuack, could I use your phone for a minute?"
Ripcord gazed at her evenly. "Are ya callin' anyone long distance?"
She expertly slapped on an innocent face, coiling her arms behind her to enhance the effect. "No, sir."
He smiled and nodded. "Go right ahead, little missy. It's in the liv--"
She darted out of the room, breezing past the intently pondering Drake Mallard. "Hi, dad."
"Hi, sweetie," he answered distractedly. He did a double-take, furrowing his brows. "And just what do you think you're doing?"
She plucked the phone from the hook and began dialing. "Calling Honker."
"Why?" he questioned, his eyes darkening. "Don't tell me you're coercing him into doing your homework again--"
"No!" she sneered incredulously. Returning to the phone, she mumbled, "Though when you see my report card, you'll wish I had." She pressed the cool plastic receiver against her ear. "Honker might be able to use the computer in the Tower to trace the call and find out who did it!"
He scoffed indignantly and circled the coffee table once more. "Trace the call! Pah! Good old-fashioned footwork is going to solve this crime, Gosalyn. Noo-ho-hooo, no high-tech computer work here! We'll have to look for clues! Find information! Snoop around until we find out where he called--"
He halted and turned to his petite daughter as she muttered something under her breath and began to redial. "Hey, I have an idea!" he exclaimed. "Why don't we have Honker use the computer at the Tower and trace the call, since we're all stuck here?"
Gosalyn slapped her forehead. She loved her father, but she was glad she wasn't actually related to him. "Oh, it's ringing!" She impatiently listened to the quiet chiming. "Come on, Honk, pick up, already," she groused as she tapped her foot on the floor.
A split-second after the words had left her mouth, she heard three off-key beeps, followed by a pre-recorded woman speaking, "We're sorry, the number you have called is currently unavailable--"
She scowled and dropped the phone back onto the cradle. "Stupid phone; I couldn't reach them!"
Drake threw his hands into the air. "Great! The one time I could enjoy them being somewhere else, and I'm on the other side of the state!" He then tilted his head to the side. "Wait a minute... Tonight's Saturday, which mean's Pelican's Island is on! Herb would never miss an episode of Pelican's Island. And he's too dumb to actively ignore the phone ringing."
Gosalyn shook her head. "I didn't even get to their phone; it was 'unavailable'."
"'Unavailable'?" he repeated. She nodded in affirmation. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "What would make their phone unavailable...?"
Loopy emerged from a nearby door, her expression more bewildered than normal. "Hey, aren't you guys from St. Canard?"
Drake struck a dramatic pose, holding up his cinnamon bill proudly. "Yes, I'm proud to say that we're all from the beautiful sea-side cityscape of St. Canard!"
The words 'St. Canard' caught Launchpad's attention, diverting his gaze to the living room. Setting his mug down, he strode to the paneled doorway. "What's up, Loop?"
She glanced back into her bedroom, her honey mane flipping about her shoulders. "Well, 'kay, I saw St. Canard on TV, and it looks like it's totally being attacked and junk."
Drake's pose fell suddenly. "What?! Let me see!" He walked past her and entered the cramped room, which was decorated entirely in hearts, posters, and plush, furry little toys. The others quickly followed him as he made his way to the television that sat on the hot pink dresser, looking as though it had been patched together many times over with duct tape and spare parts. He stared at it with distaste. "Sheesh, when was this thing made? 1885?"
"Like, TV's weren't around then, Mr. Mallard," Loopy replied in a semi-patronizing tone. "I mean, duuuh."
He ignored her lack of sardonic savvy, adjusting the bent, foil-covered antenna. The buzzing snow on the screen never faltered. "Agh, stupid reception!" He smacked the top of the TV.
Gosalyn shoved her way through the wall of bigger, stronger adults, and after sparing a moment to gawk at the atrocious color scheme, she stood in front of him. "Hey, hey, don't break it, dad!" She pivoted to the beleaguered television and cracked her knuckles. "Let an old pro try it." Her tongue curled around the edge of her beak as her small fingers worked over the rabbit ears, her eyes fixed on the screen. After a few unsuccessful tries, she growled and slapped her hand down on the top angrily. "Stupid reception!"
Drake flashed her a smug grin. "Not so easy now, is it, Gosalyn?"
She swiped the antenna from the top of the set, bending the thin aluminum poles every which way. "I haven't met a TV I couldn't get working. Don't worry, I'll figure it--"
The screen flickered to life for an instant. Her ears were assaulted with a wave of garbled speech. "Gos, whatever you did before, do it again," the stout mallard said.
She snorted and began fiddling anew with the antennas, grumbling softly, "Yeah, sure, 'do whatever you did before, Gos'; what do I look like, a Genie?" She tilted the cold metal object and stared at the bottom of it. "Man, some people just don't respect the logical mind--"
She froze in place; the base of the antenna an inch from her beak while the cheap imitation velvet caused the tip of her bill to itch. "Is it working? What am I missing?" she asked, her eyes darting around curiously.
The screen, though hazy (and in black and white, no less), depicted an overhead view of St. Canard ablaze in various sections of the city. The news channel, in some attempt at making the shot even more dramatic than it already was, cut to random shots of stores being looted in the darkness, while police officers struggled to curb the crime wave. The violence faded out to a canine newscaster, who had a finger pressed to his ear. "--Widespread damage and near chaos. Again, for those just tuning in, approximately twenty minutes after dusk--that would make it nearly four hours before now--the St. Canard Electric Plant was inexplicably attacked by this man--"
The top corner displayed a silhouette in a wide-brimmed fedora, with the ominous blur of a moving chainsaw in hand. Drake's eyes narrowed to slits. "Negaduck."
Gosalyn's eyes went wide. "Nega-duuuck? I thought he was still locked up! What's he doin' back already?"
"At the moment, we do not know if he is working alone or in a group, but the police are urging everyone to stay in their homes, and to remain CALM--"
Drake pushed his way past the McQuack family, stating firmly, "Come on, LP, we've got to go."
Gosalyn's head shot up from behind the black velvet base, watching as the two speedily exited the garish pink room. "Hey!" she stammered, quickly dropping the foil antenna back upon the top of the jury-rigged television and racing out. "Don't forget me!"
Loopy watched the red-headed gosling zip from her room, looked at the snow that had reappeared on the screen, and said, "I totally have to invite her here more often. That's the best reception I ever got."
Drake stormed through the house in a matter of seconds, steaming, "I knew Negaduck was behind all of this! He called you as a ploy to lure us away from our rightful places as the city's guardians!" He harrumphed indignantly. "Try to get the better of Darkwing Duck, will he? Weeell, I'll show him a thing or two about pulling one over on ME."
Gosalyn frowned as she caught up with him. "But, dad, until a minute ago, you didn't even know Negaduck was involved!"
Launchpad followed his boss, scratching the back of his head. "Well, that explains why the guy on the phone sounded like ya, though," he spoke with a snigger.
Ripcord and Birdie mysteriously appeared in front of them as the trio neared the front door. Drake couldn't remember when they'd passed him, but he was too thought-riddled to question it. "Are ya sure you wanna leave on your own?" Ripcord offered. "We could fly ya there, if you wanted."
The small, yellow-feathered gosling stopped, pressing her finger to her lips in thought. "Weeell, dad, it would be quicker--"
Drake shook his head, ushering Launchpad and Gosalyn outside. "No no, no thanks, Mr. McQuack," he quickly declined, prodding his oh-so stubborn daughter to move. "We're, uh, quite capable of--shake a leg, Gosalyn--getting there on our own. Lots of stuff at home to protect and all that. Heh." He tugged at the loose collar of his shirt, using his feathered rump to bodily jar Gosalyn out the door. He waved and stepped out, hurriedly declaring, "Thanks, gotta run, love to chat later, bye!"
Ripcord and Birdie stared at each other quizzically. Ripcord scratched his neck and uttered, "Well, he's a right nice guy, that Mallard fella. Few pints short of a gallon, though."
Drake stalked down the dim, street-lit sidewalk as the stars glimmered in the moonlit sky, his mouth knotted into an irritated grimace. Launchpad and Gosalyn, knowing that cheesed off expression all too well, lagged behind as he ranted. "I cannot believe I forgot we didn't bring our car..." He turned his anger on his sidekick, his glower cutting through the night. "Why didn't you remind me, LP?"
Launchpad fumbled for a proper reason. "Well, ah..." Sighing, he slumped his broad shoulders. "Gee, DW, I'm sorry. I kinda forgot, too," he answered woefully.
"You can't blame him, dad," Gosalyn defended the pilot. "He was too busy running like a maniac towards his dead sister."
Drake's resonating azure eyes zeroed in on her. Unlike Launchpad, though, she didn't back down. Realizing that intimidation alone wasn't working, he sputtered, "Yeah...well... Why didn't you remind me, huh?"
She shrugged impishly. "I'm nine; I'm not supposed to care about parking."
The mallard huffed an unintelligible reply and continued walking. Eventually, he caught sight of the dented-up blue station wagon sitting in the warm yellow glow of a nearby street-lamp. "Finally," he breathed as the trio crossed the road, small pebbles crunching under their feet. He pulled out his keys as he neared, his sharp eye detecting how the light only enhanced the vehicle's critical need of a new paint job. He made a mental note to get Launchpad to give it one after they captured Negaduck, tugging on the door's handle.
An explosion ripped through the front of the car, the force knocking him like a rag-doll into Launchpad and Gosalyn. The brunt of his body slammed into the powerfully built pelican's chest, his arm inadvertently swatting his daughter across the brow, and sending them all to the rough, unforgiving pavement in a tangled mess. Flaming and charred shrapnel rained down and littered the street, fire spewing majestically into the sky as he hauled himself from across Launchpad's prone form. "So much for the paint job," he groaned, shaking his head to clear it.
Gosalyn rose to a sitting position and gawked at the burning remains with awe. "Whoooa..."
Launchpad shifted and rested his elbows on his knees, scratching his head underneath his cap. "Sheesh, I knew she needed a tune-up, but I didn't think it was that bad."
Drake frowned, the worry lines across his brow becoming more pronounced. "That was no accident, LP. That was an assassination attempt!"
Gosalyn rubbed her forehead tenderly with a small wince of pain. "But, don't you have to be important to be assassinated?"
He glowered at the gosling, a part of him studying the oddly beautiful way the flames danced in her large green eyes. "Hey, I'm plenty important!" he rebuked. "I'm Darkwing Duck! Why, I've wrestled with some of the meanest, malevolent, maniacal creatures that plagued St. Canard! Who wouldn't want to try and kill me?"
She crossed her arms and gaped at him, the warm red hues of the blaze flickering across her golden feathers and copper hair. He realized that fire suited her. "Bud, daaad, you're not Darkwing Duck right now! Why would someone try to kill Darkwing Duck by blowing up Drake Mallard's car?"
The insinuation dawned on him as the police sirens wailed in the distance. His eyes turned to the fire burning away at his van mere feet away from him, feeling the emanating heat slam into his semi-charred feathers, and gulped. "We...might have a slight problem, then."
To be continued...